I was actually rendered speechless. (But not for long... to the regret of many.)
I've been seeing the pictures and reading the posts of others and I'm not sure what else there is to add. All the adjectives have been used. Amazing. Stunning. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Magical. Electrifying. Overwhelming.
Every quilt exhibit should be hung this way. I know that isn't possible but a girl can hope. As I tried to think of what I could add to what has already been written, I thought I would try my best to give you a sense of what it was like to be there.
The exhibit was held at the Park Avenue Armory on Park Avenue, between East 66th and East 67th Streets. Yes, it is a lovely part of New York City. While I missed the presentation by Elizabeth Warren, the curator of the Folk Art Museum, my friend Ginger was fortunate enough to attend. She told me that Mrs. Rose had loaned several of her red and white quilts to her alma mater, Bryn Mawr, for an exhibit about 20 years ago. The museum had contacted her over the years about exhibiting her quilts at the museum, but they had never heard back. Then in 2009, Mrs. Rose contacted them. When they met, the museum proposed several sites as a possible venue for the exhibit, only to have each one rejected as being "too small". When they finally suggested the Armory, Mrs. Rose told them that it would be perfect and that it was available March 25 - 30, 2011. She had already booked the location. (Wouldn't you just love to meet Mrs. Rose?)
Entering the Armory is like walking into an old church... up the stone steps with the brass handrails and down a long somewhat dark hallway. There are long hallways going off to the left and right, then you continue on a short distance to the big double doors entering the Wade Thompson Drill Hall. The Armory and Drill Hall were built in 1881 and is one of the largest unobstructed interior spaces in New York. It measures approximately 200 feet wide by 300 feet long. Imagine an huge old high school gymnasium, only bigger. The wood slat floor is old and a little uneven and it has a lovely worn painted finish. The lighting for this exhibit was done with spotlights. While it might have been nice to have brighter lighting for photography purposes, I loved the was the spotlights highlighted the variations in the shades of red and white. It really was perfect.
As I got closer to the doors and saw this, I started getting goosebumps.
Going up 40 feet and spiraling around in a truly dazzling array of red and white, this was the grounds-eye view of the Hall from the left side of the entrance.
To get oriented, the picture above this layout was taken just inside the entrance near Pavilion 1. Pavilion 11 is the rising swirl of quilts in the center of the picture and the in the center of the Hall. Beneath it was the circle of quilt-draped chairs.
This was the view standing in the middle of the Hall looking at the far curve of Pavilion 12.
Pavilion 9 was the low banked platform with quilts laid flat. There were benches on the far side of the platform - an area that always seemed to populated with more men than women. I'm not making judgments, it is just an observation.
Each of the smaller side pavilions -- Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6/7 - were hung with at least 50 quilts. (Most had 56 quilts but not all of them.) Each pavilion had quilts hung on the inside and on the outside in three horizontal rows, and usually in ten vertical rows.
The quilts were hung on large cardboard pipes with a half-pipe resting on top. Despite lots of asking around and much speculation, nobody was able to learn exactly how the quilts were secured to the cardboard pipes. The general consensus among the folks I spoke with is that there weren't any sleeves like those you see at the quilt show. The best and most popular guesses are small pins that could be pushed through the cardboard pipe and/or stitching the interior and exterior quilts to either side of a strip of "something" that was then laid over the pipe.
What is missing in these pictures - and in any picture of the exhibit - is the depth and dimension of the quilts. I don't mean the actual quilting on the quilts but the layers of quilts as they hung. The layout of the specific quilts was extraordinary because any view from more than a few feet away included the quilts to the sides, in the back and in the distance. Varying shades of white and red, variations in density of color and scale, and the juxtaposition of curves, straight lines and angles turned every "picture" and view into a kaleidoscope of red and white imagery.
Variety. It kept coming back to that. There were a couple of redwork quilts and lots of pieced quilts. The applique ranged from large single motifs to multiple repetitive motifs, sometimes with subtle variations. There were several Princess Feather variations and quilts that were "storybook" quilts with many different images. The pieced quilts ranged from simple bar quilts to intricate Feathered Star variations. Flying geese? There were thousands of those, and more than twice as many itty bitty half-triangle squares. Some of the quilts had little or no quilting, just a top and a backing with finished edges. A summer quilt. Others had elaborate quilting with teeny tiny little stitches. There were a few crib quilts but most of the quilts looked to be between 66" x 66" and 80" x 80".
And yes, many of the quilts were square! I would even bet that more than half of the quilts are square.
While chatting with a friend yesterday, I mentioned that one of my favorite quilts in the exhibit was a simple bar quilt. She asked for a picture and here it is.
The quilting consisted of cables in the wide white bars and small, narrow cross-hatching in the red and white bars. I love this quilt. While at the show, someone asked me which quilt was my favorite and I couldn't pick just one. When I pointed to this one as being on the list, I found out that I wasn't alone. Several of us loved the simplicity of this quilt.
As you already know, there is going to be a book of the exhibit next year. There are also reports that there will be "several" television and YouTube programs in the coming months that discuss the creation of the exhibit, the design and hanging of the exhibit and the exhibit itself. There are also reports that the show - or parts of it - will travel in some form or another. When and where is still unknown but there have been so many requests that it is being considered.
Since I've already gotten a few e-mails from friends about who I saw and who I met...
Linda Lum DeBono. Linda has lots of terrific pictures of the show - she's a far better photographer than I am and I think she's also got serious, mad Photoshop skills. Make that skillz.
I didn't get pictures but I saw Sandy Klop - American Jane- and her sister; Jennifer Keltner and Elizabeth Tisinger of American Patchwork & Quilting; and Gail Kessler of Andover Fabrics. And because I kept following a certain Lissa around, I finally got to meet Kate Spain! That was a real treat, she's even more terrific than her fabric.
Jennifer had the funniest advice about attending the show. She said to make sure you had washed your neck and brushed your upper teeth, inside and out, because you would walking around with your head back and your mouth open. (At least I thought it was pretty funny.)
The last thing I want to mention is the number of people at the exhibit who weren't quilters. While I met lots of quilters - including a few who might be reading this! - I was surprised by the number of people who came to the exhibit because they had heard about it or read about it and were curious. I spoke with several gentlemen who asked if I was a quilter, and when I said I was, they were curious about the quilts. Did they have names? Were there names for the designs? Were all quilts like this? Were all quilt exhibits like this? (Some do. Most do. Some are. Sadly, no.)
And that's all there is for now. I can't think of anything else that hasn't already been written except for one thing...
I wish you could have been there too. You would have loved it.