Great Cities by Christine Wrobel

New York Beauty Quilts at an Exhibition in San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles

By Bill Volckening

It’s been busy lately. My exhibition, “Collecting New York Beauty Quilts” opens on July 31st at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose, California. The exhibition will run through October 27th and will include more than 30 quilts made between 1850 and the present, all variants in the New York Beauty genre.

KY Quilt 1870 Rare Applique Vine Sashing

1870s quilt from Kentucky with a rare applique vine sashing (Maker unknown).

The earliest examples of these quilts were made in the mid-19th century and were discovered in the southeastern United States. The first published patterns were seen around the turn of the century. There are many questions about early names for these quilts, but not enough information is available to support any clear trends.

New York Beauty is the name of a Mountain Mist pattern from 1930. After the pattern appeared, quilts with the similar visual elements were also called New York Beauties, even the earlier ones. It was partly due to the popularity of the Mountain Mist pattern, and partly because the instructions said the pattern originated in 1776.

People believed the quilts had always been called New York Beauty, so that’s what they would be called. Historians are still sorting things out, because many of the records and references identify the quilts as New York Beauties. Much of the information from the past hasn’t held up well to scrutiny, and it’s caused me to ask questions and change my thinking as I learned more.

Fascinating as that whole line of questioning is, the exhibition is designed for a broad audience and it’s about collecting these quilts and letting them tell their stories. There will be some specific historical information in the exhibition, but its strength will be in the visuals.

New York Beauty pieced quilt, unknown maker, c. 1850, Kentucky. Photo by Bill Volckening

New York Beauty pieced quilt.
Maker unknown, c. 1850, Kentucky.

Not long ago, in the premiere guest blog for “Why Quilts Matter” I described the “Eureka Moment”, when I bought my first quilt from Shelly Zegart. My passion for these quilts has only grown since that first quilt. In the process of collecting, a story began to unfold. That’s what guided me to seek specific quilts. There were holes to fill, and certain quilts were needed to flesh out the history. It was a little like illustrating a book that hadn’t yet been written.

The Mountain Mist New York Beauty was one quilt I didn’t have until just two years ago. I’d seen examples from time to time over the years, but hadn’t really collected Depression era quilts. When I realized the significance, finding one was a must. Now I have one in orange, yellow and white, and another in red, white and blue – the two color combinations suggested in the instructions.

I also have copies of the vintage pattern and Mountain Mist pattern booklet – a complete package. Viewers can read about how the quilts were made, and look at examples, which closely followed the instructions. These objects were all collected with the intent of illustrating parts of the New York Beauty story.

Great Cities by Christine Wrobel

“Great Cities²” (Christine Wrobel of Sequim, WA, 2000-2010)

Today, the collection is probably the largest and most comprehensive group of these quilts to be gathered together. When you look at the quilts as a group, you can begin to see the evolution. Early examples included a lot of handwork, both piecing and quilting.

Gradually, the designs were simplified, pieced sashing began to disappear, and more machine work was seen, particularly in the piecing. The most significant development came during the last 20 years with the introduction of foundation piecing, which ushered in a wave of innovative designs. It was a vibrant new beginning in a genre with a long, colorful history.

“Collecting New York Beauty Quilts” will have something for everyone. The exhibition will include best-of-kind antique quilts, quirky and offbeat quilts, and outstanding recent examples. It’s been such a pleasure to collect these quilts, and even more fun to learn about them and share them.

Bill Volckening
Portland, Oregon http://www.billvolckening.com

 

A 40-page, full-color printed catalog will be available at the museum, and online through Blurb. The release date will be announced on Bill’s blog.

 

Image credits: Images courtesy Bill Volckening.

 

1 Comment to “New York Beauty Quilts at an Exhibition in San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles”

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