Published: July 30, 2002
Heritage Center Plans New Museum for Textiles
By Karla Klein Albertson
LANCASTER, PENN. — Formed 20 years ago by the owners of a California clothing company, the corporate Esprit Quilt Collection focused on the bold designs in deeply saturated colors produced by Amish quilters between 1870 and 1950. Under the guidance of the collection’s curator, Julie Silber, a selection from the assemblage was exhibited in 1990 at San Francisco’s de Young Museum as “Amish: The Art of the Quilt” with several accompanying publications.
After Esprit was sold and its co-founders divorced, the collection was divided. Doug Tompkins placed his share of the quilts in a foundation, the Conservation Land Trust, set up to preserve rain forest environments in South America. Now Peter Seibert, director of the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County, has announced that the institution has purchased 82 of the Lancaster Amish quilts from the trust for $1 million dollars.
According to Seibert, Patterns in the group include all the Amish classics: Diamond in the Square, Bars variants, Sunshine and Shadow, Ninepatch, Jacob’s Ladder and Tumbling Blocks.
“There is no finer collection of Lancaster Amish quilts from the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries known to exist,” pointed out Seibert. “We see this acquisition as not so much a coup for the Heritage Center but rather a triumph for Lancaster County. If you are at all knowledgeable about quilts, you recognize this collection as simply the best of the best. Bringing it back to Lancaster will ensure that it is preserved in the county where the quilts were created.”
When the quilts arrive in Lancaster, the story will just be beginning at the Heritage Center end. With support from the city of Lancaster, Seibert hopes to develop a new facility in the downtown area as a quilt and textile museum with the Esprit Collection as its nucleus. But first, the director must defy the challenging economic climate and raise pledges to cover the loan for the quilts. He noted, “We just finished a capital expansion project this spring and here we are talking about having a whole new facility available by next year. People are enthusiastic about the project, but there’s a lot of negotiating going on. If I could get about four good days with the stock market, I’d get some pledges in for the quilts.” Some donors are attracted not only by the quilts, but also by the fact that the purchase price will be used for rain forest conservation.
In the meantime, the search for exhibition space is underway. Quilts present delicate conservation and display problems, emphasized Seibert. “What’s hard to explain to the city government is that you just can’t tack quilts up on the wall and be finished. These are a lot more sensitive than that. And you can’t put them up and leave them for 20 years.” The final space chosen will also need to be correctly fitted with special lighting, storage areas and state-of-the-art climate control.
The Heritage Center’s normal calendar year presents one major exhibition running April to December, after which the museum closes for the winter. This year’s “Made in Lancaster” show will be followed next April by a long-planned exhibition on portrait painter Jacob Eichholtz. Yet Seibert hopes to find a spot to show off the new quilt treasures: “Our plans call for them to be shown — in some temporary venue — as soon as we possibly can.”
The Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster Country is at 13 West King Street, adjacent to the City Market. The museum can be reached at 717-299-6440.
Former collection curator Julie Silber, who recently came to Lancaster to lecture on the collection, also runs her own firm (The Quilt Complex in Albion, Calif.; 707-937-0739; thequiltcomplex.com) that mounts exhibitions, offers antique quilts for sale and appraises collections.
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