I went to the Katonah Museum of Art (a short 20-minute ride from my house) to see a delightful and unique exhibit of quilts. Actually, I dashed over there after the TV show “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood” aired a piece about this exhibition.  It had great commentary by the guest curator, Jean Burks, Chief Curator at the Shelburne Museum. It was clear that not only did I need to see Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Evolution, but also share my impressions of this visually and historically rich exhibition.

Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Evolution covers two hundred years of American quilts from early 19th century four poster bed covers to contemporary designs that are more art installation than object. All of the quilts were chosen for their artistic excellence and their technical achievements. In addition, the exhibit features quilts that have longer histories than can be determined by the sophistication of the oldest surviving quilted pieces which, shockingly, date from around 200 A.D. They were preserved by permafrost in a remote part of Russia and discovered by a scientific exhibition in 1924. Much later in Europe, during the Middle Ages, multi-layered quilt jackets were worn by knights who could not afford armor.

A quilt is simply a three-layered cloth sandwich with a decorative top and backing with filler in between. The layers are stitched together for warmth and comfort.  Quilted bedding is most familiar to us. However, throughout  history, artists have pushed the boundaries of the craft to expand what a quilt can be from clothing to wall art, furniture covers and three dimensional room sculpture.

There were beautiful examples of 19th century quilted bed covers that were made from several lengths of twill-woven wool or small pieces of cotton meticulously stitched together in countless pattern variations (many of them regional) including baby blocks, stars, log cabins, appliqué flowers, memorabilia albums and crazy quilts.

By the 21st century, the art quilt emerged heralding a dramatic and fundamental change in the history of the medium. They became art for walls, not beds, created by artists who abandoned traditional media (painting, ceramics or printmaking) to express themselves in original designs of cloth and thread. The expanding definition of the word”quilt” means that contemporary quilters will continue to take risks to pursue their artistic visi

Many of the quilts were on loan from the Shelburne Museum and collected by Electra Havemeyer Webb. The Katonah Museum of Art  is devoted to changing exhibitions and educational programs with a wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. The building was designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes as a flexible space for all manner of the visual arts, lectures and hands-on workshops for visitors of all ages.

Katonah Museum of Art, 134 jay Street, Katonah, New York

Open Tuesday-Sautrday 10-5, Sunday 12-5

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