Infinite Variety: Three Decades of Red and White Quilts, was a magical and monumental exhibition presented by the American Folk Art Museum at the Park Avenue Armory from March 25-30. Entering the Armory’s soaring drill hall, one felt as though they had walked into a swirling deck of cards. 651 quilts, restricted to a palette of red and white, were ingeniously hung in spirals and rings and a vast wall along the back. As visitors wandered through this forest of craft, the sense of awe was palpable.
The quilts are from the collection of Joanna Semel Rose, who started buying quilts at flea markets in the 1950s, and never stopped. The title Infinite Variety reflects the hundreds of variations in style and technique throughout the show. Although a few standard motifs emerge, each quilt is unique, as they are all the products of individual women unsung for their talent and craft. Some of the quilts are simplistic in construction or pattern, while others boast impressive complexity and precision.
The creativity of everyday women to design and shape the world around them is evident in the piece below. When cloth for patchwork was scarce, women would re-purpose materials to work their quilts. Flour sacks were made of cotton and when emptied, could be washed and bleached of their logos, then the white fabric could be used. In this case, rather than erase the printed design, the maker used them as templates for embroidery: each square shows a different brand of flour.
Whether the technique employed patchwork, appliqué, quilting, or embroidery; or emerging designs were geometric, abstract, or figurative, the literal thread that links them is their simple red and white scheme.
Visitors young and old enjoyed the show. Women who were quilters themselves admired the work of others in their craft; children with drawing notebooks were fascinated and inspired as well. In time, a new generation may fashion quilts of their own.