Tornado season adds to whirlwind tour of museum
I knew my visit to the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Neb., would be memorable, but I never expected the high-pitched “whooop, whooop, whooping” of its tornado siren when I walked in the front doors.
“We’re in tornado season here, so we ask you to participate in our drill, too,” says the receptionist, who ushered my husband and I and several other visitors into interior chambers fortified for such a disaster.
The shrill warning finally dissipated. Thank goodness sunny skies prevailed outside. Upon our release from the inner sanctum, we continued our tour of the state-of-the-art center that opened in 2008.
This $12 million facility on the campus of the University of Nebraska houses more than 3,700 quilts from more than 30 countries, the world’s largest public collection. Four centuries of quilt making by both hand and machine are represented in the building’s 37,000 square feet.
I am impressed that the study center actually is an academic program of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design within the College of Education and Human Sciences.
Can you imagine being a student there and having access to such an outstanding collection of resources? I could find hidden treasure every day.
On the ground floor, visitors can browse the entire collection digitally in a virtual gallery, where they also design a quilt and record their personal quilt stories.
The second floor features a reception hall with a large, curved curtain wall of glass. Beyond that are three galleries that showcase changing exhibitions. Fifty to 75 quilts are on display at one time.
During our September visit, we were able to see 18 selections by six invited artists in the Studio Art Quilt Associates’ 20th Showcase. Part of the artists’ mission was “to maintain a clear relationship to the folk art from which contemporary quilt making descends,” according to the brochure.
Most impressive were large works by Susan Shie and Michael Cummings.
Shie writes all over her quilts, as message and design. One of hers titled “First Lady” honors Michelle Obama and her family.
Cummings expresses both his historical and political views in two quilts, made in 2006 and 2007, dedicated to Africans who were brought to America long ago on the slave ship Henrietta Marie. They were bound in the hold of the ship in a quilt that measured 120 inches by 156 inches.
Another quilt, titled “Escaping Slave Ship,” shows several Africans plunging from the vessel into the depths of the sea. His is amazing work, yet the subject matter makes it disturbing to behold.
The Studio Art Quilt Associates’ exhibit runs through Feb. 24, 2013.
In a second gallery, 13 antique quilts were shared in “What’s in a Name? Inscribed Quilts.”
For example, a “Double Nine Patch” quilt, circa 1880–1900, contains 530 names and was made by the Ladies Aid Society of the Lutheran Church in Trumbull County, Ohio.
Museum researchers found a report describing the quilt and its use as a fundraiser to furnish a new church building. The names of officers of the 1880 Ladies Aid Society are among the signatures.
The collection, which is on display through Dec. 2, also includes family album and friendship quilts.
In a third gallery, a new exhibition, “Indigo Gives America the Blues,” was being installed. Showing through June 2, 2013, it tells the story of indigo dye, derived from several different plants, and how it was first imported from India to Europe in the late 1400s. The colorfast dye ranged from pale blue to midnight blue and was nicknamed “Blue Gold.” Indigo has been popular in American textiles for four centuries.
In 1880, a synthetic version of indigo was developed; it was almost impossible to tell the difference from natural indigo. This became commercially available in 1897.
A wide variety of indigo quilts are part of this exhibit, including blue and white patterns popular during the 1800s in New York state and, finally, two examples of modern indigo.
Today, we sport blue denim jeans as the American uniform, which grew especially popular with the synthetic indigo dye process throughout the 20th century. New and recycled denim can be found in both of the modern indigo quilts that were pieced in 1975 and 1980.
In the mid-1990s, I made a denim comforter of sturdy, used jeans and pockets, backing it with flannel. I doubt it will ever wear out.
By now, it should be obvious that I got quite an education at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum. And I haven’t even mentioned what quilting riches I found on the third floor. I’ll leave that for you to discover.