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Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts

July 16, 2018–October 3, 2018
At the Self-Taught Genius Gallery
Long Island City, Queens

Looking across city blocks and quilt blocks, roadways and seams, one can see a visible kinship between quilt making and cartography. Both are built upon established systems that use color, pattern, and symbols to create whole compositions from a network of interlocked parts. Quilts and maps are also infused with history and memory—similarly living records of traditions, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and future aspirations. What can be gleaned from a bit of patchwork cut from a wedding dress, castoff feed sack, or commemorative flag? How are personal, political, cultural, and spiritual ideals inscribed onto a quilt’s surface, creating a network of roadways and landmarks that illustrate the quilt maker’s world and his or her place within it?

Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts is an invitation to read quilts as maps, tracing the paths of individual stories and experiences that illuminate larger historic events and cultural trends. Spanning the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, the exhibition brings together a collection of quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum that represents a range of materials, motifs, and techniques—from traditional early-American quilts to more contemporary sculptural assemblage. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Our Queens, a participatory activity open to all during gallery hours (Monday–Thursday, 11 am to 5 pm). Visitors are invited to take up a needle and thread to embroider landmarks—marking significant places, events, and memories—onto a canvas map of Queens. (Previous sewing skills are not required.) To document this public collaboration, the Self-Taught Genius Gallery has a blog, where stories and memories are recorded throughout the duration of the project.

Exhibition curator: Sarah Margolis-Pineo, assistant curator, Self-Taught Genius Gallery

Installation photos by Olya Vysotskaya.


Exhibition-Related Programs

Stroller Tour at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery
Midday Art Break (free tour)
Queens Memory Program: Quilting Memories of Migration
Small Folk Story Hour
Folk + Feminism Book Club | Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
Self-Taught Genius Bar | Rosé Wines & Rose Quilts
Midday Art Break (free tour)


Images: Map Quilt, artist unidentified, possibly Virginia, 1886, silk and cotton with silk embroidery, 78 3/4 × 82 1/4 in., gift of Dr. and Mrs. C. David McLaughlin, 1987.1.1. Photo by Schecter Lee.

Cross River Album Quilt; Mrs. Eldad Miller (1805–1874) and others; Cross River, New York; 1861; cotton and silk with wool embroidery; 90 × 75 in.; gift of Dr. Stanley and Jacqueline Schneider, 1980.8.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Log Cabin Quilt, Barn Raising Variation, possibly Sarah Lamb King (1818–1882), New England, 1869–1875, silk, 67 1/8 × 67 1/8 in., gift of Mrs. E. Regan Kerney, 1980.12.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Contrary to Hearsay, He Wasn’t the Devil; Jean-Marcel St. Jacques (b. 1972); New Orleans, Louisiana; 2014; wood, nails, and antique hardware on plywood; 84 × 96 in.; Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, LLC, 2014.18.1. Photo by José Andrés Ramírez.

Cleveland-Hendricks Crazy Quilt; artist unidentified (initialed “J.F.R.”); United States; 1885–1890; lithographed silk ribbons, silk, and wool with cotton fringe and silk and metallic embroidery; 75 × 77 in.; gift of Margaret Cavigga, 1985.23.3.

“Sacret Bibel” Quilt Top; Susan Arrowood; possibly West Chester, Pennsylvania; 1875–1895; cotton, silk, wool, and ink, with cotton embroidery; 88 1/2 × 72 in.; gift of the Amicus Foundation, Inc., and Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, 1986.20.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Star Quilt; Nora McKeown Ezell (1917–2007); Eutaw, Alabama; 1977; cotton and synthetics; 94 × 84 in.; museum purchase made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with matching funds from The Great American Quilt Festival 3, 1991.13.1. Photo by Scott Bowron.

(Panel 1/3) Jerry’s Map (S5/E3, Generation V); Jerry Gretzinger (b. 1942); Ann Arbor, Michigan; Cold Spring, New York; and Maple City, Michigan; September 14, 2014, completed/retired on January 19, 2016; felt-tip pen, colored pencil, acrylic, tape, and plastic clippings on cardboard; 8 × 10 in.; gift of the artist, 2017.8.5. Photo by Adam Reich.

“Ella” Crazy Quilt, artist unidentified (signed “Ella”), United States, 1922, suiting woolens with cotton floss embroidery, 84 × 68 in., gift of Frances S. Martinson, 2006.4.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.


47-29 32nd Place
Long Island City, NY 11101

Map (click to enlarge):

Subway: 7 train to 33rd Street, walk 2 blocks
Bus: Q32, Q39, Q60


Major support for the Self-Taught Genius Gallery is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Booth Ferris Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Ford Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

The quilt as an art form, often with deep meaning
– Victoria Zunitch