You can see the shapes of Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian and the colors of Franz Marc in the Bellevue Arts Museum’s African American Quilt Show, “Bold Expressions.” The quilts on the museum walls are predominately from the American South and many are from the 1940’s, though there is at least one example created between 1910 and 1920 and one completed in the seventies. “I can see strips of polyester leisure suits in that one,” said the docent, referring to the youngest quilt, which immediately brought back memories of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”
The collector of these works of art, Corinne Riley, said, “In the past, these quilts were usually disregarded because of their unconventional construction. But I believe that the decisions that were made in piecing these were intentional, not accidental, as with any art form.”
For many of us, the show connects us to more than late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century art, because quilts make a link to our family history. I have three my grandmother made, including one that’s unfinished. A friend told me she had inherited twelve. When you look at swatches of fabric within a quilt, you can imagine the dresses, shirts and aprons that these were once a part of, salvaged because nothing went to waste during and after World Wars I and II and the Great Depression.
Quilting did not die out with my grandmother’s generation, and the quilting bees of colonial and pioneer America, where groups of women sewed and conversed, are enjoying a resurgence. My friend with twelve quilts tells me that the most significant change over the years is that sipping wine now accompanies stitching and talking at many quilting bees. What would our grandmothers think?