Making Memories: Quilts as Souvenirs

Exhibition

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A work made of appliquéd and embroidered quilt; dyed cotton plain weave fabrics; cotton embroidery threads.
The Settling of the West, 1931–1932
Mildred Jacobs Chappell

The quilts in this exhibition, whether they depict a particular event, remember the lives of individuals, or offer a fantastical escape, all speak to the “souvenir.” They can embody particular memories and serve as reminders of places, people, events, and ideas. These remarkable quilts—mainly from the United States but with examples from England, Ireland, and Mexico—invite the visitor to contemplate things remembered and forgotten, the careful construction of memory, as well as the objects made to keep those memories ever present.

Among the exhibition’s many highlights is a pictorial quilt—The Settling of the West—that Mildred Jacobs Chappell completed in 1932. The orderly, picturesque, and peaceful vision that Chappell constructs offers a tidy narrative of Manifest Destiny and American progress, to the exclusion of the conflict and violence that proved central to westward expansion. This romantic image of a time, place, and series of events is mirrored in the composition’s simplified forms. In the inscription on the reverse, Chappell asserts, “My only regret is that I could not have lived one hundred years earlier to experience those stirring times, instead of only having made this quilt to commemorate them.”

The 27 visually captivating and technically masterful quilts in this exhibition, all from the permanent collection and ranging from 1840 through 2001, tell stories that reward patient looking.

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