Quilts, such as those that will be on display by the Dakota Prairie Quilting Guild, have been made and used in America since the early 18th century. In producing items that kept their families warm, pioneer women also found a creative outlet. Families can still be kept warm by a handmade creation, as many of the quilts on display at Yankton Area Arts’ GAR Hall Art Gallery will be for sale.
Actually, the quilting process precedes America’s history, dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Quilting involves layering fabric, a technique early civilizations applied for cushioning and warmth. The earliest surviving quilt was made in the first century BC and was found in Mongolia.
Quilting has perhaps its richest tradition in the United States, and it exists in parts of the country few may have expected. Most people are familiar with the Amish quilts, with their minimalist yet elegant designs. And they have heard of quilting bees in the Midwest and Plains, which were social events for pioneer women whose daily existence was otherwise often isolated. However, few may know that Hawaii, too, has a long history of quilting. Long before Western culture crossed the island beaches, Hawaiians would use pieces of bark, beaten and dyed, to make richly illustrated, multilayered bed coverings, called “kapas.” When fabric was introduced to Hawaii, the islanders painted some of their familiar patterns on stitched quilts.
Quilts come in various styles. During colonial times, women with plenty of wealth and leisure time would make whole-cloth and medallion quilts. They would apply detailed stitching to a single piece of wool or cotton fabric. Women not living in wealth often produced the familiar patchwork quilts, using scraps left over from dressmaking and other uses of cloth. In the late 1900s, crazy quilts, with their abstract designs, became popular.
Quilts have been used for more than to produce warmth. Abolitionists helping runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad would use quilts to signal paths to freedom. Some quilts were made to help raise money to support soldiers during the Civil War. There are even story quilts, which illustrate a narrative often of a personal life or an historical event.
Today, quilts are a recognized art form. Some have intricate patterns that have been compared to paintings by Victor Valsarely and other Op Artists of the 1960s. Quilts have been displayed in prominent museums, including New York’s Whitney Museum and Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery. Some have commanded masterpiece-like prices. In 1991, the art auction house Sotheby’s sold a Civil War-era quilt for $264,000. It became a donation to the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska.
There will be quilts for sale at the GAR Hall Art Gallery, too, but for much more affordable prices. Come see creations by the Dakota Prairie Quilting Guild along with hand-blown glass art created by Art Ciccotti from Ames, Iowa. Ciccotti and Guild members will talk about their creations during an opening reception at 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 4. Attend and you may learn more about a rich American tradition.
YAA Calendar of Events:
• March 31 — Open House with our new Executive Director, Pam Meylor at the G.A.R. Hall Art Gallery, 4-6 p.m. Open to the public
• April 3 — “Etiquette Before Prom” lecture by Dawn Stoner at the G.A.R. Hall Art Gallery from 7-8 p.m. Please RSVP as space is limited, firstname.lastname@example.org or (605) 665-9754
• April 4 — Wood Carving Lecture by Mike Miller at the G.A.R. Hall Art Gallery in the Art Studio 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Free to the public
• April 4 — “Stitches and Glass” reception and gallery talk featuring Art Ciccotti and Dakota Prairie Quilt Guild at the G.A.R. Hall Art Gallery 1-3 p.m. Free to the public. Exhibit runs from April 4-May 13.