Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historic Quilts


of an Exhibition

by Jenn Cusworth

Published on April 11, 2013, Modified on April 12, 2013

  • Description:

    The entrance to the “Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historic Quilts” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is straight out of an elevator, and through a pair of doors, with no real separation from other exhibitions. In fact, the space was a little confusing at first, but there is a quick transition between the hall and the exhibition and once entering, amazing quilts immediately surround every visitor.

    The physical space of the exhibition space was split into two rooms. The first hallway was very open, straight down with high walls, painted, and quilts both hanging on either side. In the center of the hall, were light blue “bed” shaped furniture pieces with quilts lying on them. I appreciated this juxtaposition, as it was nice to see the quilts both displayed as works of art and functional items of every day life. The second room has a different shape, with the same walls. The quilts in this room are mostly hung on the walls, with one area displaying similar quilts on a slanted surface, showing comparisons between them.

    Without knowing much about the topic of the exhibition before visiting (besides quilts), I was happy to find short, appropriately written explanations painted on either end of the long hallway describing the curator’s intent. “Workt by Hand” is an exhibition held in the Sackler Center for Feminist Art wing of the Brooklyn Museum. The curator presented quilts both as objects that inspired modern art, and as objects that represent forgotten women throughout time. Because the quilts presented were so intensely intricate, their creation must have been incredibly time intensive. Also, most of the quilts displayed were made pre-1900, making many of them made entirely without machine. Insane.

    The quilts themselves often followed recognized and traditional quilt patterns, “Mariner’s Compass”, “Star of Bethlehem”, “Whole Cloth”, but some of them showed a less traditional pattern such as the “Crazy Quilts”. Many of them were made out of cotton, but often they included fabrics such as velvet, silk, and lace.

    In the second room, painted in large font on the wall read the quote “For all women everywhere,who never really wanted to be anonymous after all. Dedication from Patricia Mainardi’s Quilts: The Great American Art, 1978”. This quote summed up the curator’s point of view quite nicely and worked really well in the space. While I was copying down this quote, I realized that all of the visitors in the space were women, which was an interesting observation.

    Overall, the art was beautiful and well displayed. I did wish that there was softer lighting and perhaps not overhead, to make the quilts cozier and softer looking, but I did appreciate that I could view them in detail. “Workt by Hand” is definitely recommended, both for the art and the incredible stories that they tell of the women, both known and anonymous, who created them.

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