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Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery Features Amish Quilts

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

Opening October 6 and continuing through January 21, 2001 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery, "Amish Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown" explores the value of the quilt within the Amish community, as well as the infinite variation on traditional patterns in Amish quiltmaking. Drawn from the extensive collection of Chicago residents Faith and Stephen Brown, the quilts on display were crafted during Amish quiltmaking's "classic period" from 1880 to 1940, primarily in Holmes County, Ohio, the largest Amish community in the Midwest. Textiles from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kansas and Indiana also are represented.

"This exhibition is a window into the life of the Amish," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The unique beauty of these works reflects the spiritual values of the Amish faith—humility, simplicity, devotion, and most importantly, community."

Traditional quilting patterns of squares, triangles, diamonds and other geometric shapes in rich, bright colors form bold abstract compositions. This exhibition features typical designs such as "Diamond," "Roman Stripes," "Crosses and Losses," "Lone Star," and "Railroad Crossing."

"The dynamic elements of these quilts, along with poetic names such as 'Crosses and Losses,' elevate the work beyond the utilitarian, which is actually the main concern for these quiltmakers," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery. "Their quilting is blurring the line separating daily life from art."

"The Renwick Gallery and the Brown family share a special bond," said Jeremy Adamson, senior curator at the Renwick and the coordinating curator for this exhibition. "The couple became interested in collecting quilts after visiting our 1972 exhibition 'American Pieced Quilts' drawn from the collection of Jonathan Holstein and Gail Vander Hoof. They began their collection one-year later. We are very excited to renew our connection by hosting this exhibition from their collection."

Amish women began making quilts around 1850, much later than their non-Amish neighbors. In keeping with Amish principles, they worked with simple designs embellished only with ornate quilting. They used deep blues and reds, often combined with rust, olive and other earth tones. After 1900, the colors became more jewel-like.

The Amish, a group that formed in the 1690s through a break with the Mennonites, still choose to live apart from mainstream culture and modern life in adherence to strict religious tenets and conservative beliefs. They structure their lives around simplicity, humility and obedience to the church.

The exhibition was organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Its presentation at the Renwick Gallery is supported in part by the Smithsonian's Special Exhibition Program. Julie Silber of The Quilt Complex and Robert Shaw of Quilts Inc. co-curated the exhibition in Ann Arbor.

A fully illustrated book by Joe Cunningham and Eve Wheatcroft Granick, titled "Amish Quilts 1880 to 1940 from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown," accompanies the exhibition. It was published this year by the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The cost of the hard cover book is $22.

Public Programs Highlights

Saturday, Oct. 7, "Comfort and Joy: Quilting Community, Memory and Spirit—A Quilt Symposium" 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. (break 12:15 to 2)

Panelists discuss quilts and their connection to family, community, the past and the present. Presentations by Carolyn Mazloomi, curator of Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary Quilts by African American Artists, at the Renwick through Jan. 21, 2001; Ricky Clark, affiliate scholar, Oberlin College; Gregg Stull, executive director, the NAMES Project Chapter of the National Capitol; Carole Y. Lyles, quilt artist; and Nancy Gibson, curator of Textiles, Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. Seating is limited to 350 on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Sunday, Oct. 8, Collector's Talk at 2 p.m.

Faith and Stephen Brown will give a talk about collecting and appreciating Amish quilts.

Sunday, Oct. 15, "Family Day—Let's Quilt!" Noon .to 4 p.m.

Learn about quilting techniques through demonstrations and hands-on workshops.

Saturday, Nov. 4, "Quilt Share and Care" 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.


Bring your quilt to the Renwick Gallery for expert advice on what it means and how to care for it.

For information about a variety of other programs scheduled in coordination with this exhibition, including the Thursdays at 1 p.m. gallery talk series titled "Take a Break at the Renwick," call (202) 357-2531.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at