“Quilts and Color” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

I had three opportunities this spring and summer to attend an exhibit showcasing the quilts of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It is on view until Sunday, July 27, and definitely I’d recommend attending, if you can.

As I understand it, Roy and Pilgrim were interested in collecting quilts that showed unusual, daring, or unorthodox use of color. They wanted the quilts they bought to be in good condition, but they cared more about bold and memorable use of color than about stitches per inch.

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The quilt above is the one that you see publicizing the exhibit on city buses. A Double Wedding Ring from about 1940, its African-American creator used a generous (but alluring) amount of purple.

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One of the first quilts you see as you enter the exhibit is this Carpenter’s Wheel quilt (above), made by a Mennonite woman in the 19th century who stitched quilts for her seven children. She wasn’t afraid to use bold colors – in this case, orange, red, and green – or an attention-getting pattern. Also in the same room is this Nine Patch from the 1880s (below), which uses a similar high-energy palette of orange, red, and blue-green.

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Some of the patterns are instantly recognizable, such as Star of Bethlehem or Sunshine and Shadow (below). photo (5)

Others use patterns I had never seen before, such as this Snail’s Trails (below) from the 1930s, which was created by a member of an Illinois Amish sect.

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This Tumbler’s Block pattern (above) from about 1920 was unusual, but I thought it looked modern with its slightly off-kilter rectangle/triangle pieces in black and gray.

My favorite quilts were by the Amish.


This Framed Diamond in a Square quilt (above) from about 1890 was one of the simplest quilts in the exhibit, but the minimalist design spoke to me. Also Amish was this Thousand Pyramids quilt (below), which looks both timeless and modern.

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Speaking of Amish quilts, my family recently spent a few days in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We happened upon an open-to-the-public auction organized by the Amish in which they were selling handmade items to raise money for special needs children. The quilts that I saw there were stunning, yet they featured printed cottons and elaborate designs. Call me a dinosaur, but I love solid fabrics and pared-down designs.

As I read over this post, I realize that I’ve included only those quilts I liked; thus, I fear I’m not doing justice to the full spectrum of quilts included in the exhibit. Some used color combinations that did not speak to me. This Sunburst quilt from 1856 (below) was considered the “ugly quilt” by the family who owned it, so they stored it away for many years. Even though I don’t love the palette, I appreciate the bold use of color.

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So that’s the exhibit in a nutshell, but there are many other quilts on the walls that I haven’t shown here. If you’re in the Boston area, you will thank yourself if you go see the exhibit.


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