Published: December 2, 2003
Nine boldly patterned quilts, ranging in date from 1892 to 1940 – all made by women from Amish communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa – are being shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 1.
“The Art of Simplicity: Amish Quilts from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum” explores diversity within tradition – why certain quilt designs and colors were preferred in different communities and what the appearance of a particular community’s quilts may reveal about its history. Three recently acquired Midwestern Amish quilts will be shown for the first time.
The Eugenie Prendergast Exhibitions of American Art are made possible by a grant from Jan and Warren Adelson.
The textiles in the exhibition are drawn from the Antonio Ratti Textile Center of the museum.
The Amish religion is a Protestant sect, founded in the late Seventeenth Century by Jacob Amman, formerly a bishop in the Swiss Mennonite church. Victims of religious persecution in Europe, the Amish people immigrated to America in two distinct waves.
In the years between 1736 and 1770, about 500 Amish people arrived in America and settled primarily in eastern Pennsylvania. A second, larger group of Amish, numbering about 3,000, came in the middle decades of the Nineteenth Century. While a few of this number stayed in Pennsylvania, many continued to move west in search of fertile and inexpensive farmland. They eventually formed settlements in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and other western states, as well as Ontario in Canada.
Currently, some 135,000 Amish people live in North America. The Amish people are known primarily for the simplicity of their traditional lifestyle and distinctive dark-colored clothing, but they have also become justifiably famous as producers of quilts of astonishing boldness and great aesthetic appeal. Like their style of dress – which intentionally sets them apart from the world at large – the quilts of the Amish are a visual statement of the community’s beliefs.
The Amish began making quilts at a relatively late date. While a few examples can be dated to the Nineteenth Century (the heyday of American quiltmaking), most classic Amish quilts date from the first half of the Twentieth Century. The patterns and colors of an Amish quilt reflect the conservatism of the community in which it was made, and the amount of interaction the community had with women from outside the group. In general, quilts made by Amish communities in the Midwest have tended to be less conservative than those made in Pennsylvania.
Quilts in patterns associated with the Lancaster County, Penn., Amish – such as Center Diamond and Sunshine and Shadow – will be shown alongside less traditional quilts from communities in the Midwestern states. These include a quilt showing the brightly colored Pinwheel pattern from Indiana, and a variation on a crazy quilt made from patches of blue and purple wool that is attributed to the Amish community in Arthur, Ill.
Quiltmaking remains an important part of Amish life today and quilts are still made for use within the community. Recently, in many Amish communities, quiltmaking has become a profitable cottage industry.
The installation is the first exhibition of quilts in The American Wing since 1990. The collection of bed coverings in The American Wing includes some 80 quilts and 60 coverlets.
The installation is organized by Amelia Peck, associate curator, with Cynthia Schaffner, research assistant, department of American decorative arts.
The museum, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, is one Friday and Saturday, 9:30 am to 9 pm, and Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. For information, 212-535-7710 or www.metmuseum.org.
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