All Star Quilts at Shelburne Museum

It’s been a great year for viewing exceptional old quilts made by Amish and Mennonite quilters!

I’ve written elsewhere about antique quilt displays and about Shelburne Museum, but I haven’t put the two together and written about the antique quilt display currently hanging at Shelburne.

The Shelburne Museum, in Vermont, is known for its terrific focus on folk arts and for its collection of over 500 American quilts.

This summer one of the special shows has been All Star Quilts. These quilts are all from the 19th– and early 20th-centuries, mostly made by Amish and Mennonite women, made of solid color fabrics, and all made with patterns based on stars.

The quilts come from the collection of John Wilmerding. Wilmerding is best known as a preeminent art historian, collector of American fine art, and curator. But his grandmother was Electra Havemayer Webb, an avid collector of folk art and the founder of Shelburne Museum.

Wilmerding came honestly by his appreciation of folk art quilts!

As was the case with the antique quilt show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many of these quilts were displayed against black walls, which made the quilts appear to just glow with color!

 

Patty Yoder’s Beautiful Sheep, Again

IMG_8479Just about a year ago, when I started my blog, I wrote about an exhibit of hooked rugs I had seen at Shelburne Museum, in Vermont. These rugs, made by Patty Yoder, are so beautiful and so successfully bring an new artistic vision to an old craft form that I was excited to share them.

The problem was, I had just started my blog and almost no one was reading it yet! So the delightful, sweet, hand-hooked sheep were enjoyed by only about 4 people.

We went back to Shelburne last week, and visited the sheep again–they are still splendid. I took some new photos and am refreshing what I wrote, with hope that you’ll find them as compelling as I do.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

IMG_8477The exhibition features about 20 of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

IMG_8476Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. It was hard! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and the maker needs to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2014. I know most of you will never be able to see these in person but I hope the photos give you a sense of how loving hands can transform strips of fabric into a whimsical farmyard of sheer delight!

A Maker’s Abecedary: A is for . . . Alphabet Sampler

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Samplers from the collection at Shelburne Museum, Vermont.

One of the wonderful things about being a maker is the choices we have available about what to make. Depending on your interests, values, and aesthetic sense, there’s a craft or art form for every taste, from A to Z.

As our hands shape our chosen materials, we are shaped by the work we do. This was perhaps never more apparent than in the tradition of girls and young women making needlework samplers, especially in early America.

These samplers taught so much—the alphabet, the building blocks of literacy, and often a moral precept, but also focus, concentration, and amazing eye and hand coordination, especially considering that simple samplers were stitched by girls as young as five or six. Eleven- and twelve-year-old girls made elaborate samplers, with superbly tiny stitches that would challenge you and me.

Just as the samplers taught the girls much of what they knew, they also teach us much of what we know about these girls and of women and their roles in these early years. Even the names of woman were rarely recorded in official ways in the 17th and early 18th centuries and so much of women’s work was work that was regularly undone and didn’t last.

Food was prepared and was consumed, and more food needed to be made. A home was cleaned, a bed was made, a garden was tended and all needed to be done again the next day. All were relentless, repetitive works in progress, with no lasting artifacts to remind us of the names and contributions of women.

So, in our abecedary of craft forms, it’s appropriate that alphabet samplers come first, since they were the craft that came first for young girls and because they provide tangible evidence that women make.

All alphabet samplers are samplers but not all samplers were alphabet samplers, or training tools for that matter. It seems that the earliest-known samplers were a way for women to collect stitches—a sort of cloth and thread library of stitches they could refer to.

Women didn’t have printed instructions, much less the Internet, to learn from so, when they saw a stitch that was new to them, they would stitch it on cloth, as a reminder. This sampler of stitches was added to over a woman’s lifetime and examples of these collections survive from the 15th and 16th centuries.

It was probably only a matter of time until these collections of stitches turned into something of a competitive sport and samplers evolved as more elaborate and showy, a way for a woman to show off a little, as seems to have happened in 18th- and 19th-century Europe.

These showy samplers didn’t make a lot of sense for European women who came to North America, though:

the settlers in America had a new wilderness to conquer and the need for elaborately decorated linens and clothing was not a necessity to them. What was common luxury in ‘civilized’ England was not important in the new land.

What was deemed necessary in early America was the education of girls to become resourceful and pious women, and good wives and keepers of a home. The alphabet sampler was an important aspect of this education. The alphabet sampler, while not original to the United States, was certainly embraced by new settlers of the English colonies, to teach their girls.

From 1645, when the earliest-known American sampler was made by Loara Standish of the Plymouth Colony, girls spent hours of their days, producing stitched alphabet samplers. It seems amazing to me that young girls, usually between the ages of six and twelve, had the coordination and concentration to make these stitches. Can you imagine any 10-year-old you know handling this task?

These samplers were teaching tools, giving girls a way to learn and practice stitching, letters, coordination, and lessons in morality. They could then demonstrate their ability to mark linens, in order to keep track of them in a household, as well as demonstrate piety and values to possible husbands.

The completed work was usually framed and hung in the parlor, proclaiming the maker’s obedience, patience, and skill. . . . The verses found on many samplers reinforced these messages, emphasizing the importance of female virtue, the value of education, and obedience to one’s parents and to God.

That so many alphabet samplers survive, even though they are made of relatively fragile threads, gives us a good sense that the women who made them treasured them. And why wouldn’t they? The samplers were evidence that a woman could make a mark that would last, unlike so much of the work assigned to women in those years. The permanency of thread on linen, along with the name of the maker, gave many women the only tangible item that might outlast them.

The simple designs of these samplers are still treasured by needleworkers, who reproduce the designs faithfully from patterns offered for sale. Today’s patterns connect modern stitchers to a long, homely tradition:

Make it.

Learn from it.

Sign it.

Cherish it.

___________________________

For more information about samplers, including alphabet samplers, and many images visit Antique Samplers.

 

 

Honoring Folk Art: The Shelburne Museum

IMG_1622If you love that which is handmade, homemade, made with love, you are probably drawn to collections of folk art.  There are lots of people, however, who turn their noses up at items made by untrained makers and at “craft,” in general.

The wealthy parents of Electra Havemeyer Webb were just those kinds of people. They collected “real” art of Europe and Asia and brought their daughter up to appreciate the best of the best.

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra Havemeyer Webb

But what Electra thought was best didn’t follow her parents’ tastes. Electra was drawn to art in unusual places. In the early 1900s, this pioneer collected American quilts and samplers. Figureheads of ships. Decoys and advertising art. And historic New England structures that she had brought to the museum she founded, the Shelburne Museum.

This fine museum of folk art and Americana is the Shelburne Museum, located just south of Burlington, Vermont.

The museum is made up of the 18th and 19th century buildings that Electra found and had moved to the museum grounds. These buildings, as well as more traditional galleries, serve as home to the thousands of items in the collection.

Today, at the Shelburne Museum “impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view.”

If you visit New England, and there are dozens of excellent reasons to do so, treat yourself to a visit to Shelburne Museum. Go in the summer or fall, when the whole museum is open and you can wander the campus and spend time. You’ll be amazed at the art you see there, both old and new:

Folk Art

The buildings themselves are beautiful examples of craftsmanship and the range of folk art is stunning.

Textiles

The museum has more than 400 early quilts, as well as hooked rugs, coverlets and samplers.

This current exhibit features the work of John Bisbee, a Maine artist who makes all of his work with nothing but 12-inch nails!

The other current exhibit combines old glass from the museum collection with newer pieces by contemporary artists.

Hands at Home: Rug Hooker Patty Yoder

Patty Yoder-1

If you love quilts and coverlets and samplers and hooked rugs, you NEED to make a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The museum provides a fascinating view of Vermont cultural history, with some of the most spectacular displays of antique American textiles you’ll ever find.

We went to Shelburne last week, spent the day, and just dipped our toes into their vast collection. They have 700 quilts, although they only have about 50 on display at any given time so it’s always an adventure to go back! I’ll write more about the antique quilts and other textiles at some point but today I want to focus on a current exhibition that is simply stunning—The Alphabet of Sheep series of hooked rugs, made by Patty Yoder.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

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The exhibition features several of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. I was awful at it! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and you need to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

ImageImageImage

The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2013. While you’re there, be sure to visit the “Wyeth Vertigo” exhibit as well, with paintings and other works by 3 generations of the Wyeth family, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth. Not exactly “hands at home,” but a wonderful chance to see paintings of this American art dynasty all in one place!

shelburnemuseum.org/

Patty Yoder-6

Hands at Home—My Top 10

Because I’m thinking a lot about makers and making, those “loving hands at home,” I want to explain my thinking a little more. I have certain activities that I love to do, to participate in, and others that I want to learn about and appreciate. These are some of the topics I’ll be writing about so you can think of this as a preview of coming attractions! If you love the handmade, too, what would you add to the list?

  1. candy making—this is on my mind a lot because it’s a business for me. I make caramels and chocolate candy. It’s a great creative outlet and makes the people around me happy, too.
  2. quilt making—this, to me, is the ultimate “hands at home” craft. The colors, the textures, the design possibilities!  The connections to the past and other makers. I love the most utilitarian quilt as much as the most carefully crafted, beautiful quilt.
  3. jewelry making—I studied this in college, took it up again at a later date, and should do more. I never feel more powerful and accomplished than I do with an acetylene torch blazing away.
  4. music making—do you play an instrument? Sing? I think we all should. I don’t do it often enough but there’s something about participating in the making of music that is essential to human nature, I think.
  5. gardening—I came to this late and have a lot to learn. For me it’s about flowers and loveliness but maybe you grow vegetables. Either way, watching things grow . . .wow.
  6. folk music—I like homemade music. I put this as a different list item than “music making” because, while I think we should all play our own music, I also want to listen to the music of the average person. I especially like the music of protest and rebellion.
  7. weaving—I don’t have the first clue how to do it, which is too bad since we have a big loom, an impulse purchase, sitting in the garage. I’m drawn to the woven items every time I go to a craft display or historical museum, though.
  8. textiles—I guess I should just admit that all textiles appeal to me. Those samplers done by nine-year olds. Those rugs hooked from rags, to warm the feet AND beautify the home. And all those tablecloths and dish towels, embroidered with bright colors. So much tradition and personality in each piece!
  9. folk art—this is in the front of my mind because we just made a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont, where they have a huge collection of folk art and it’s so cool. It focuses on utilitarian items, like weather vanes and duck decoys and scrimshaw. These were made by unknown hands, by people not trained as artists, and each item is simply lovely.
  10. 10. enough about me . . . what would you add as the tenth item on the list? What do you make by hand?