Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics

The documentary series examines quilts through the lenses of history, art, and politics. For the quilter, collector or casual observer, the nine episodes explore the centrality of the quilt in American culture and revealing the unsuspected size, breadth and depth of the quilt culture.

Distributed by: The National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA)
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Quilts 101 - Antique and Contemporary Quilts

Episode #101H · What is a quilt? This episode introduces the audience to the brave new world of the American quilt, where that question has many different answers. If a 'real' quilt is a three layer fabric sandwich sewn together and folded over a bed, how do we define the quilt that is an amalgamation of fabric, photography, print making and other media, and hangs on a gallery wall? Our experts contribute varying perspectives, setting the stage for the complexity of the series' larger topic: Why quilts matter and how they relate to history, art and politics. This episode also takes a look at judgments of quality in the quilt world. Learn what makes one antique quilt more valuable and important than another, and why contemporary quilts are judged by a very different set of standards. To close the episode, experts provide practical suggestions for quilt fans who want to develop their 'eye' for a great quilt. In short, its Quilts 101, and the perfect introduction to a surprisingly complex subject.

Quilts Bring History Alive

Episode #102H · We all wonder how people really thought, dressed, traveled, and behaved in generations past, and we need only to look to quilts to find out. Since quilts were made-not by artisans-but by ordinary women whose lives they closely reflect, they are fonts of information about the people and periods they represent. In this episode we will explore the quilt's unique ability to preserve, not only our own family histories, but the history of America beyond the reach of memory. Join host Shelly Zegart as she analyzes quilts from two centuries up to the present, extracting information about everything from the state of transportation to the prevalence of smoking in their makers' world.

The Quilt Marketplace

Episode #103H · The marketplace for quilts has always been a bit of a mystery. It's hard to understand why some quilts are so much pricier than others, and why some old quilts aren't worth anything at all. And how can an artist ask $10,000 for a brand new quilt...and get it? In this episode of Why Quilts Matter, host Shelly Zegart takes you behind the scenes in the quilt marketplace-past and present-where you will meet its players, learn its unwritten rules, and penetrate its secrets. Discover why one 19th century quilt was worth $264,000.00 and how a quilt can go from $150 to $20,000 as it passes from picker to dealer, up the ladder of expertise. Find out how artists price their quilts in the contemporary market and how technology is changing the playing field forever.

What Is Art?

Episode #104H · You think you know art when you see it, but this episode of Why Quilts Matter may make you think again. Turns out the quilt is the perfect test case for a dozen theories about what makes art, well.... art. Take the art vs. craft debate: As a domestic object made by women for a practical purpose the quilt falls squarely into the 'craft' category, and a humble one, at that. But do some quilts become 'art' when exhibited, like paintings, on a museum wall? Which ones? The plot thickens when we consider the claims of 'art quilts' made solely for exhibition. Are they art-not craft--just because their makers say they are, and how do we know, anyway? Who knew that it takes a soft cover to define a tough concept? Join host Shelly Zegart and crew as she explores "what is art?"

Gee's Bend: The Most Famous Quilts In America?

Episode #105H · In 2002 the art world was rocked to its foundations by a group of unusual, abstract quilts made by African American women from an obscure hamlet in southern Alabama. People lined up around the block to see them and the critic from the New York Times gushed as, for the first time, the quilt became the subject of a museum blockbuster. Join us as we trace the journey of the quilts of Gees Bend from the clotheslines of the South to the exhibition walls of the country's greatest museums. We'll explore the aesthetic and social appeal of these quilts-and quilters-as well as the controversies they engendered, and analyze their unique place in quilt history.

How Quilts Have Been Viewed and Collected

Episode #106H · It's now been nearly a century since quilts were first collected and exhibited and they've come a long way, baby. In this episode of Why Quilts Matter, we trace their slow incursion into museum collections, watching as they finally make the leap from tester bed to gallery wall. The episode charts institutional attitudes toward quilts as objects, rationales for their selection, and the public response to their exhibition (hint: it's very good). To make it all clear, we trace the path of one exemplary quilt from maker to museum. Finally, we explore the lure of quilts for a private collector...who's got to have them, and why.

Empowering Women One Quilt at a Time

Episode #107H · You can look long and hard and you won't find an object more central to the history of women than the quilt. In this episode we look at the quilt's historical and current roles as (among others) an avenue of personal expression, a sly medium of social and political opinion, and a building block of financial security. Unique among objects, quilts are both lowly "women's work" and great art. They are something made from nothing; they are both nurturing and inspiring. They can communicate both intimate memories and great societal truths, and they have throughout history. Here curators, quilt makers, and scholars discuss the surprising number of ways in which the quilt has been and continues to be, woven into the histories and psyches of our mothers, our sisters, ourselves.

Quilt Nation : 20,000,000 and Counting!

Episode #108H · "Quilt making," as one quilt maker says, "is the greatest mass movement nobody ever heard of." The population of the American quilt world outnumbers those of many small countries, and yet most outsiders remain unaware of its size, diversity, and economic clout. In this episode Why Quilts Matter goes inside this unseen world, meeting its participants, attending its events, analyzing its businesses, periodicals, support services, and technological advancements. Our experts also provide a bird's eye view of the politics, as various festivals, artists and quilters struggle for the heart and soul of Quilt Nation.

Quilt Scholarship: Romance and Reality

Episode #109H · The history of quilt scholarship in America is more relevant-and far more interesting-than some might think. To begin with, there was once a time when it wasn't very scholarly at all. Turns out that the quilt was so beloved, so central to the myth of American life, that many scholars failed to debunk the legends and folk lore it had engendered. Today the field has grown into a serious discipline generating material of interest-not just to the quilt world-- but to a dozen other important disciplines from material culture to sociology. The quilt is central to them all.