Quilt: Field of Diamonds (American, about 1860)

Pieced wool plain weave and twill (some printed), glazed cotton plain weave back, wool plain weave binding; quilted. Frank B. Bemis Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Elizabeth M. and John F. Paramino Fund in memory of John F. Paramino, Boston Sculptor, Helen B. Sweeney Fund, Mary L. Smith Fund, Textile Income Purchase Fund, Joyce Arnold Rusoff Fund, and Alice J. Morse Fund (2014.1862). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

For the simple reason that I am sewing a quilt for my daughter, my curiosity about quilts in our collection has been ignited. The animated tour de force shown here is one of my favorites. I first saw it in the 2014 MFA exhibition Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection, a true celebration of the power of color, and a testament to the creative ways makers utilized color to create many varieties of quilts that stir the soul and dazzle the eye.

Gerald E. Roy and his partner, the late Paul Dwight Pilgrim (1942-1996), both trained as artists, began collecting quilts that they perceived as mirroring Josef Albers’ color theories. To their eye, these quilts went beyond their essential function as decorative objects created to provide comfort and warmth. In the Collector’s Preface to the book that accompanied the exhibition, Roy speaks about the criteria that guided their collecting choices:

We resolved to pursue collecting quilts that we found exciting and challenging, those that reflected unique and personal approaches to color and design, or what we called “the mark of the maker”…We were not counting stitches and checking to see if points were accurate. As long as the workmanship did not detract from the overall appeal, the quilt was a candidate; however, we never compromised on condition. No matter how wonderful it had once been, it was not coming home. We also never purchased a quilt without judging its visual appeal by viewing it from twenty paces away. As we continued to collect individual patterns and fill chronological gaps, we ultimately acquired more than fifteen hundred examples.”

The Museum’s acquisitions of nineteenth century pieced quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection began in the year 2008 and continues to the present, immeasurably increasing the depth, quality and range of our holdings. These collectors, as passionate about the historic importance of the quilts they collected as well as their visual impact, have enhanced our ability to tell the story of quilt making through the ages. Expect to see more over the coming weeks!

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org

Objects in Brief is a randomized showcase of the MFA, Boston’s encyclopedic Textile and Fashion Arts collections. A featured object is indicative of the author’s curiosity and chosen so she may learn about its material and structural properties, function, history, and greater story. These “quick studies” have led to more in-depth explorations posted in A Closer Look.