Quilting traditions modern and contemporary at Columbus Museum of Art

The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) presents Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition, a group exhibition surveying how artists across generations have located the medium at the intersections of tradition and innovation, leveraging its rich potential to make visible social, political, and environmental concerns. Quilting a Future will be on view at the Museum from October 6, 2023–January 28, 2024, and is co-curated by Sarah Berenz, Roy Lichtenstein Curatorial Fellow at CMA, and Deidre Hamlar, Curator at Large at CMA.

Quilting a Future finds its roots in the Museum’s Wasserstrom Collection, a vast collection consisting of nearly 400 traditional American quilts ranging from the early nineteenth century to present day. Showcasing the expansive history of quilting, the Wasserstrom Collection provides a springboard for understanding the origins of the medium and the compelling treatment of quilting in contemporary art today.

In addition to works by artists known and unknown from CMA’s Wasserstrom Collection, the exhibition features work by Max Adrian, Sanford Biggers, Bisa Butler, Avis Collins Robinson, Carolyn Crump, Vanessa German, Luke Haynes, Carla Hemlock, Letitia Huckaby, Sedrick Huckaby, Heather Jones, Wendy Kendrick, Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Tura Oliveira, Johnathan Payne, America Irby, Mensie Pettway, Priscilla Pettway, Faith Ringgold, Yvonne Wells, Dawn Williams Boyd, and Anthony Peyton Young.

Across decades, the exhibition explores traditions of pattern and technique, and the expression of narratives and hidden language. Works on view speak to the utilitarian basis of historical quilting practices, including the use of quilts as coded guides for enslaved persons on the Underground Railroad, as well as the medium’s evolving creative context, previously being considered women’s work and outside the fine arts.

“The nexus of Quilting a Future is the inheritance of technique through generations and the contemporization of traditions by some of the most inventive contemporary artists working today,” co-curator Sarah Berenz said. “The works on view created in recent decades showcase how quilting’s rich histories with regard to both form and function make the medium ripe with possibility for artistic experimentation and the exploration of contemporary issues.”

The Continuum of Quilts

In illuminating juxtapositions, quilts with traditional geometric designs are displayed alongside contemporary interpretations of patterns, and narrative quilts with figures, symbols, and sewn text tell stories of identity and place. Works by three generations of Gee’s Bend artists showcase the ancestral knowledge and legacies embedded in the medium, using techniques passed down through generations.

Examples of historic and contemporary garments showcase the influence of quilting on fashion, including shoes, bags, shawls, dresses, petticoats, and other wearables from CMA’s Wasserstrom Collection as well as on loan from The Ohio State University’s collections. Issues of environmentalism additionally arise through several artists’ engagement with material economies and ecologies, using recycled fabrics to examine the crisis of global human textile waste.

Through their deep explorations of materiality, artists on view span those applying new fabrics and imagery to traditional quilting approaches, as well as those incorporating the visual language of the medium into sculptural and painterly works. Works such as Sedrick Huckaby’s large-scale painting A Love Supreme: Fall monumentalize familial histories and the meticulous nature of the craft, depicting the artist’s grandmother’s quilting practice in a series representing the four seasons.

Also featured are artists who have participated in CMA’s Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Artist Fellowship and Residency, honoring the life and career of celebrated artist Aminah Robinson, whose work, home, and belongings were left in the care of the Museum following her passing in 2015.

Inspired by Robinson’s use of quilting, works in the exhibition include Anthony Peyton Young’s cloth face jugs, created during Young’s residency at Robinson’s home. Extending Young’s ceramic practice, the artist interprets face jugs—vessels with deep roots in African American art history, with examples dating back to the 19th century—in textile form, using materials from Robinson’s personal collection. The work of Johnathan Payne, whose patterned paper weaving technique was inspired by studying Aminah’s work with textiles, is also represented in the exhibition.

Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition

Quilting a Future manifests how quilting can be an active vehicle for examining and reinvigorating traditional practices and forms, with the historic medium’s multiplicity of contexts and purposes—as sources of warmth, patterns for dress, and tools for liberation, among others—offering various entry points into contemporary discourse.

By charting the trajectory of these traditions, Quilting a Future places the current generation of artists in conversation with these legacies, and illuminates the various ways they are crafting traditions of their own making.

On View at the Columbus Museum of Art
480 East Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43215

October 6, 2023–January 28, 2024

Visitor Hours:
Tues: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Weds: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thurs: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Fri–Sun: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Mon: Closed

About Columbus Museum of Art  

CMA is where creativity and the daily life of its community intersect and thrive, as the Museum champions new and different ways of thinking and doing. CMA celebrates the creative process and sets the stage for people to experience art, ideas and relationships that spark creativity and nurture collective, courageous imagination.

CMA’s collection includes outstanding late 19th- and early 20th-century American and European modern works of art, grounded in the Ferdinand Howald and the Howard D. and Babette L. Sirak Collections. The Museum houses the world’s largest collections of works by beloved Columbus-connected artists Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Elijah Pierce and George Bellows and acclaimed collections such as The Photo League and the Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller Collection of American Social Commentary Art.

The recently established Scantland Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art also continues CMA’s dedication to showcasing the art of our time.

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