Her Life in Quilts: A Review of Quilters' Biographies


From The Quilt Journal - An International Review, Vol. 2, No. 1.


By: Horton, Laurel

Editor Notes: Laurel Horton notes in the beginning of her article below asearch for identities in quilt research, a desire to tie quilts topersonalities, to their makers. This interest has resulted in anumber of one-woman exhibitions and in books, such as arediscussed by Ms. Horton, featuring the life and quilts ofindividual quiltmakers. Some impetus for this approach hascome from a perceived depersonalization of quilts throughexhibitions and books which stress their aesthetics and includetheir "social" histories only as a part of their provenances. Implicit in the urge to show the maker with her quilts is a desireto maintain or re-establish a connection between artifact andcreator and to keep quilt scholarship and public presentationfrom passing into what are seen as the drier hands of theacademic or museum establishments. Additionally, we have seen during this era a growing interest in the less heroic oroutsized events and people in the historical record, the daily rounds of lives in a culture, the common, recurring happenings which describe existence for most of us. The creators of thequilts which have survived, where they can be discovered, havebecome as important for some as the objects created. Ironically,this is in part a result of the intense study of quilt aesthetics,which focuses attention on the objects rather than the creators,but by implication, because of the inclusion of their work inaesthetics-oriented exhibitions in "art" museums and "art"-stylepicture books, identifies the makers as "artists." This gives legitimacy to a study of their lives in the context of their creative endeavors, the same sort of artists' biographies written endlesslyabout creators of painting and sculpture. Because the writing and publishing of such books answers a number of emotionaland scholarly agendas in the quilt world, we are bound to seemany more of them. Laurel Horton here looks at a number ofsuch one-person accounts and their implications for ourunderstanding of quilt history.

Author Notes: Laurel Horton holds an M.A. in Folklore from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and an M.S. in Library Science from the University of Kentucky. She serves on the Board of Directors for the American Quilt Study Group and edits Uncoverings, AQSG's annual volume of research papers. Shedirected the South Carolina Quilt History Project and is theauthor of Social Fabric: South Carolina's Traditional Quilts.