The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) announced on January 4, 2017, that the American Folk Art Museum is a recipient of a grant for $186,600 to digitize the New York Quilt Project, an archive of more than 6,000 quilts made before 1940, along with the personal stories of their makers, and information on the style and materials used. Once the collection is digitized it will become part of the Quilt Index, an international quilt digital repository, and will be available online for everyone to study, observe, and enjoy.
“We were excited to be the institution charged with documenting quilts made in New York State. Now 6,000+ quilts as well as the personal stories of who made them will be accessible to a world audience,” says Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum. “Quilts reflect the political, social, and religious views of (mostly) women at a time when there were few outlets to express such ideas. The important stories they tell reveal firsthand witness to American life and need to be preserved and disseminated, and that is what this grant will do.”
The New York Quilt Project was created over a period of nearly two years in the early 1980s and it consisted of forty-five “quilt days” held in communities across the state. On these “quilt days” the owners of the pre-1940 quilts would impart their knowledge about the quilt, its maker, and its history to a team of museum registrars, archivists, and curators. Approximately 40 percent of the quilt owners were selected to record an oral history of their quilt, resulting in 450 audiocassettes. The project resulted in forty linear feet of materials and photographs housed in the archives of the American Folk Art Museum. The grant from CLIR will digitize all of this material over a period of two years, which will then become part of the Quilt Index.
CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that collaborates with libraries, cultural institutions, and universities to enhance research, teaching, and learning. This grant to the American Folk Art Museum is one of several being made to digitizing and archiving projects at institutions including the University of California at Berkeley, Penn State University, and the New York Public Library. The grants program is generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Quilt Index was developed and led by Michigan State University Museum and Michigan State University’s MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. Michigan State University partnered with the American Folk Art Museum on this initiative.
Star of Bethlehem Quilt, artist unidentified, possibly Sullivan County, New York, 1880–1900, silk, 94 1/4 × 99 in., museum purchase made possible with funds from The Great American Quilt Festival 2, 1990.15.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.