Exhibition Explores How Quilts, Like Maps, Give Shape to Our World
WASHINGTON (September 5, 2023)—The parallels between quilts and maps as living records of a maker’s world and worldview is explored in the exhibition Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts, on view at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., from September 16 through December 23, 2023.
Spanning the 19th to the 21st centuries, the exhibition brings together 18 quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York, representing a range of materials, motifs and techniques — from traditional early American quilts to contemporary works. The quilts in Handstitched Worlds reveal how this often-overlooked medium balances creativity with tradition, individuality with collective zeitgeist.
“Quilts are infused with history and memory, but they are also living records of traditions, experiences, relationships, beliefs and future aspirations,” says Jason T. Busch, Becky and Bob Alexander Director and CEO of the American Folk Art Museum. “Handstitched Worlds invites visitors to read quilts as maps that trace the paths of individual stories, while also revealing information about larger historical and cultural moments.”
Like many objects rooted in the everyday, quilts have the capacity to communicate stories about the context in which they were made and used. A map is a pocket-sized abstraction of the world beyond what can be seen. A quilt represents a map of the maker’s life: Her choice of fabric and design reveals insights into the topography of her world and place within it.
“Patchwork techniques are found in cultures around the world, from China to India to Peru,” said John Wetenhall, director of The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. “While many of our museum’s exhibitions explore global perspectives, the artworks in Handstitched Worlds celebrate the diversity of the American quilting tradition and the vibrant communities that sustain it.”
Visitors will have the opportunity to engage with the D.C. quilting community through special exhibition programming organized by The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. The museum will host its 42nd annual family festival, Celebration of Textiles, on Sept. 9. The free festival will include artist demonstrations, hands-on crafts and a gallery scavenger hunt. Additional public programs will be held throughout the duration of the exhibition, including artist talks and a participatory community quilt activity in the galleries.
Scheduled U.S. tour dates for Handstitched Worlds include: The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI (June 12-August 29, 2021); Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, WA (September 17, 2021-January 23, 2022); Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT (February 19-May 15, 2022); Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, IN (June 18-September 11, 2022); Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, FL (October 7, 2022-January 20, 2023); Dane G. Hansen Museum and Plaza, Logan, KS (February 17-May 14, 2023); Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA (June 15-August 15, 2023); The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, DC (September 16-December 23, 2023); Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS (January 30-April 4, 2024); and Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT (September 10-December 7, 2024).
Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts was organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C. Support for this presentation of the exhibition is provided by Norma and Ted Lonoff, The Coby Foundation, Ltd., Corinne M. Berezuk, Elisabeth R. French in memory of Mary French Fingleton, and Tina M. deVries.
Since 1961, the American Folk Art Museum has been the leading institution shaping the understanding of art by the self-taught through its exhibitions, publications and educational programs. As a center of scholarship, it showcases the creativity of individuals whose singular talents have been refined through personal experience rather than formal artistic training. Its collection includes works of art from four centuries and nearly every continent — from compelling portraits and dazzling quilts to powerful works by living artists in a variety of media.
International Arts & Artists in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally, through exhibitions, programs and services to artists, arts institutions and the public.
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum is located on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus at 701 21st Street, NW, in Washington, D.C., just blocks away from the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, the White House, Kennedy Center and the National Mall. Galleries are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum is free.
Guided tours, as well as public programs, some listed here, explore themes from the exhibition. Browse upcoming programs.
Celebration of Textiles: Quilting D.C.
Saturday, September 9, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bring your family to celebrate D.C.’s quilting community at the museum. Enjoy textile demonstrations and crafts for all ages, and meet local quilters who are keeping traditions alive or innovating what a quilt can be.
Contemporary Voices: Jean-Marcel St. Jacques
Saturday, September 30, 11 a.m.
Acclaimed Afro-Creole artist Jean-Marcel St. Jacques discusses his unique wooden quilts, including his work Contrary to Hearsay, He Wasn’t The Devil, on view in the exhibition Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts.
Saturdays at 11 a.m.
Join us in the galleries for conversations with local quilt artists. This series is inspired by the varied themes represented in Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts and their connections to contemporary quilting practices.
Community Building and Quilts with Sandy Barrett Hassan
Saturday, October 21
Women Making and Reacting with Georgia Yuan
Saturday, November 4
Sewing and Surveying Borders with Aynex Mercado
Saturday, December 2
Book Signing for Patchwork: A World Tour
Saturday, November 18, 10 a.m.
A docent-led tour of the exhibition Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts will be followed by a book signing with author Catherine Legrand. Legrand's book is a vibrant, in-depth survey of patchwork techniques and traditions around the world.
For in-person gallery tours led by experienced docents for a group of up to 20 people, submit an online request at least three weeks in advance.