Exhibitions of Health-Realted Quilts

United States


The fall 2015 production of charity quilts packed and ready to deliver, made by the Black Gold Quilt Patch Guild of Leduc, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Cecile Sigfuson


Charity quilts made for Operation Sunggles by quilt guilds in southeast Wisconsin.
Photos by Barbara Vallone


Concord Piecemakers Quilt Guild of Middlesex, Massachusetts, February 2013, at their annual Quilt-a-Thon.
Photo courtesy of Sheila Macauley.

Individuals who make quilts as intentional artistic personal expressions often seek ways to publicly show their work to others. It is yet another way to raise awareness of various illnesses and causes, and/or to participate in both a community of quilters but also the community at large. They present their work in online galleries on their personal websites or blogs, in online group shows, in quilt expositions, and in art galleries and museums. There has been a rise in the development of entire exhibitions of health-related quilts organized by hospital auxiliary groups, medical and health care professionals, art quilt associations, patient advocates and educators, or individuals who are passionate about the connections between art and wellbeing. For instance, in 2009, sixteen quiltmakers responded to the call from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, to make quilts on the theme “Making a Healthier World for our Children” to help promote the work of The Global Fund in addressing AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The quilts were shown at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva and have subsequently been shown at quilt festivals in the U.S. The Studio Art Quilt Associates has organized juried exhibitions of health-related quilts, such as “Metaphors on Aging” and “I’m Not Crazy.” One group of artists – Fiber Artist @ Loose Ends – coordinates a program called Healing Quilts in Medicine in which member artists create quilts on different themes such as on diabetes, cancer, or plants used in healing and wellness. The exhibitions are shown in medical institution contexts and all are aimed at “making a difference in the lives of patients and their families.” Some exhibitions of quilts are intentionally showcased in community locations where people congregate every day such that expanded or new audiences are made aware of health issues. For instance, social work graduate student Adelina Tancioco organized the production of a health wellness quilt as a community art project. The quilt then toured to many different venues in the East Bay, California, to build awareness and empathy for those afflicted with mental health and to encourage those with mental health challenges to get the help they need.

Groups of quiltmakers who make charity quilts often temporarily display their work at their meeting places or a local church, library, or other community center before the quilts are given to the intended individual recipients or to the organizations which, in turn, will distribute them. Many images can be found in newspaper accounts or on the Internet, of quilts displayed informally draped over church pews or hung on clotheslines or over fence rails. Makers, members of the group the makers belong to, and members of the general community are able to see the quilts and these public displays, especially when accompanied by presentation ceremonies. These are often occasions when the quiltmakers receive informal and formal appreciation for their art and the charity activity in which they are engaged.

Quilts made for charitable purposes are public declarations of political stances, values and beliefs, and priorities of philanthropic action; and, as stated in Matthew 7:16, “by their work they shall be known,” quiltmakers find agency and recognition in their work. Women’s studies scholar Karen Smith has commented on the politics of public displays of quilts, “Though quilts are utilitarian in origin, their circulation and display take them far beyond the home—to art galleries, history museums, state fairs, quilt shows, and philanthropic auctions. As they move, individuals and institutions make significant intellectual and emotional investments in how quilts are classified, judged, and valued. In this highly politicized work, individuals and institutions shape public culture through debates about quilts’ utility, workmanship, and aesthetics; they create and display quilts to further their cultural heritage, manifest their faith, delineate aesthetic values, reinforce disciplinary boundaries, and elevate their artistic status.” Through the displays of charity quilts, whether it be in local contexts or in exhibitions that tour to widespread venues, the quiltmakers, exhibition organizers, staff of exhibition venues, and the media that write about these displays make strong statements of the aesthetic, social, political, educational, and cultural value and meaning of the work.

Written by MacDowell, Marsha;Luz, Clare;Donaldson, Beth (2017)

MacDowell, Marsha; Luz, Clare; Donaldson, Beth. Quilts and Health. University of Indiana Press, 2017. Page 122.

Quilts and Health

  • Quilts and Health

    Documentation Project

    Michigan State University

Load More