7 fantastic Facts about Folk Art Quilts with examples from the International Quilt Festival Chicago

There were many fascinating collections at the International Quilt Festival in Chicago this year. One which I very much enjoyed was the group of quilts in the Primitive/Folk Art Quilt section. They appealed to me, probably because we had copies of Grandma Moses’ paintings in our home growing up. The style was familiar but I didn’t have a firm grasp on the concept. I decided to do some research on Facts about Folk Art Quilts and then pair them with examples from the International Quilt Festival.

folk-re-61. What is a Folk Art quilt? It is always good to be clear on what exactly we are talking about. I read at the Rocky Mountain Quilts site this definition. “ Antique folk art quilts are wonderfully graphic, naïve pieces of totally original textile art. Sometimes these antique quilts were created by adapting a known pattern in order to free it from its more rigid structure. Appliqued or pieced folk art quilts have unusual configurations of piecing and/or unusual choices of colors and fabrics.” 

I believe that this quilt by Jolene Mershon, Fine Feathered Friends, depicts this description really well. None of the quilts in this part of the show were antique but they adhered to the concept. Ms. Mershon used an original design but it is easily recognizable as a Folk Art quilt.

2. Why is it simply not art, why FOLK art? I read a fair amount about this but felt this definition from Scholastic did a great job explaining the Folk descriptor. “ Folk art includes paintings, carvings, furniture, textiles, and otherfolk-re-2 objects produced by people using traditional techniques passed down to them through the generations. Most folk artists learn by watching their elders or by becoming apprentices in a craft. Others are self-taught. Some folk art is simple, undecorated craftwork created for everyday use. Some is highly decorated, specially painted or carved art made for an important purpose.”

I think the very name of this quilt, My Emily Monroe Quilt, illustrates this definition. Susan Calhoun did a magnificent job piecing and Terry Kramzar quilted this beauty with passion. The quilt is new but the design is from the 1860’s hence a traditional technique passed down. What a work of Art, oops, Folk Art!

folk-re-03. Issues or other names for folk art quilts? Yes, of course there are issues! I read here that no one can really agree on what constitutes folk art so there is not one accepted definition. Also, it is sometimes referred to as primitive art.

This explains the sign at the start of this group of quilts. I was wondering why the slash? Were they two types of quilts. Nope, just two because humans have different associations with different words.folk-re-4

4. Are there institutions dedicated to folk arts? I am glad you asked that question. There is, in fact, a Folk Art Museum in New York City. I have not ever been there because I haven’t made it a priority.

This “ABC Sampler” reminds me of needle work I have seen in other folk art exhibits. Pamela Kay created it and it really reminds me of samplers you can see in museums.

5. When were quilts of this type originally made? I found a date of 1875 here and never saw an earlier one for these types of quilts. They are not typically utilitarian quilts so fabric and time had to be available.

6. When was there a revival in this type of quilting? Obviously, folk art quilts were made continually by folk-re-7normal, everyday quilters. Gees Bend quilts, for example, were not part of a revival. But more notice was paid to quilting in general and Folk Art quilts in particular after the quilt revival of the 1960’s and 70’s as we approached the Bicentennial.

This sublime quilt, Birdsong, by Hattie Van Dyk is the sort of magnificent quilts that began to be made during this time period. Quilters were influenced by the past and doing lots of applique to produce these types of lovely examples.

7. Purpose of Folk Art quilts – Traditionally, folk art quilts were not designed to be “art for arts sake” according to folk-re-3this article. Folk art furniture was meant to be used, it just had more flair than perhaps your ordinary table. The folk art quilts which survived were those that were not washed as much as every day bed coverings. Maybe they were on beds that were not used as much or were put away?

I can understand wanting to preserve a quilt that was as gorgeous as this one, No Bake Applique, which was constructed by Wendy Reed. She is very inspired by the antique folk art quilts she sees.

She also used a technique used in her home state of Maine. She sews and quilts each block completely, as if it were a hot pad, hence the no bake. Then she whip stitched all the squares together, with a stunning result.

There were more unique and breath taking folk arts in this exhibit. If you get a chance, I would go see it. In fact, I would see it again.

Isn’t it simply grand that there is no shortage of quilts to be seen and admired?

Sew happy!

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I wrote a similar post about Dear Jane quilts, also with examples. You can read it by clicking here.

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