|© Griffin Reames|
Visitors to the Ypsilanti Historical Museum on North Huron Street enter a lovely furnished 1860s Italianate home with gracious high-ceilinged rooms. I never go there without wishing I could move in (or at least throw a party there). Every fall since 2003 the museum has hosted a quilt exhibition to highlight this sophisticated and complex folk art. The variety of quilts and the artistry of their makers are the only things that remain the same from year to year.
The volunteers who set up the show arrange the quilts artfully throughout the first- and second-floor rooms. Walking in and quickly taking in this wonderful display of color and creativity is a treat to the eye. But quilt lovers soon abandon the big picture and head straight for the details.
Closer examination reveals all possible permutations on the subject of quilts, from one hot off the press and entirely machine made to a prized hand-pieced and hand-quilted family heirloom from 1830. Each quilt bears a large laminated tag giving its age, its owner, and the name of the person or persons who pieced and quilted it. There is plenty of room on the tag for a story, and every quilt has one—even if it’s brand new.
A clever and colorful “skewed” log cabin baby quilt was one of my favorite new quilts in the 2007 show. Judith Engres made it for her only grandchild, Emily. Violet Jewett’s pretty blue quilt was started by her and several family members in the 1930s and finished in the 1970s. The tag reads, “When Violet looks at the different fabrics, she remembers an apron or a dress.” Sherri Vandercook loaned a stunning Bargello Hearts quilt she made in memory of a nephew who died of a severe heart problem. The tag says, “A brokenhearted quilt for a brokenhearted nephew.”
According to exhibition organizer Virginia Davis-Brown, half to two-thirds of the quilts shown each year come from Ypsilanti women. (The 2007 show also included a tour-de-force Aztec quilt made by John Cox, a retired Ypsilanti man and accomplished quilt maker.) Others come from Saline, Ann Arbor, and as far away as Northville.
The 2008 Ypsilanti Historical Museum Quilt Exhibit runs through Sunday, October 12.
[Originally published in October, 2008.]
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