Debate has long raged over taxpayer funding of the arts. However, rather than considering the arts in general, the author of this article has focused his/her venom on one particular branch of the arts – and one particular institution. The author has not been willing to sign his/her name to this particular article, so for readability, I will simply refer to the author as he.
He criticises quilt-making as being of little relevance in an era when affordable bedding is available, and memories can be preserved via photos. If quilt-making is of such little relevance, then how does he explain the existence of twenty-one million quilters in the U.S.? (More than the entire population of Australia.) Likewise, how does he explain that of all the events which take place in the Convention Centre in Houston every year, the International Quilt Festival is the only one to require the whole centre?
This article asks the question: why should this particular institution receive so much funding from arts and humanities councils, etc. and the University of Nebraska itself? The question I ask is: why not?
Quilting has long been neglected as an art form. We live in a time when increasing numbers of artists with a background in painting are moving into quilting as they discover the possibilities of thread and fabric. Yet quilting is still fighting for recognition in the art world, and a place on art gallery walls. Why is that? The answer is two-fold. One part is that “art quilting” is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only recently that quilters have been making works to hang on the wall for purely decorative purposes, rather than making them for a functional role as bedding. Yet if you consider the finest examples of patchwork and quilting from the past, they do deserve to be regarded as works of art. However, and this brings us to the second part of the answer – these works of art have previously been hidden away in the home – like their makers. From the time patchwork and quilting started, quilt-makers have been almost always female. Perhaps this is the real reason why quilting as an art form is still struggling to receive the recognition it deserves.
To learn about the history of quilt-making is to learn about the history of the women quilt-makers. For many pioneer women in America, quilt-making and quilt design was not only a form of self-expression, but their only means of documenting a response to the political events around them. Many apparently innocuous quilt designs carry hidden political meaning.
In summary, the University of Nebraska Quilt Museum and International Quilt Study Center is not the relic of a dying art that this article claims it to be. Instead it is the hub of a thriving art form and the housing for important historical records. The story which these records illuminate carries as much meaning and relevance for Americans and people worldwide today as it did when they were made.