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Self-Taught Genius Gallery to Show the Cartography of Quilts

Works Are in Permanent Collection of American Folk Art Museum

(New York, NY, June 27, 2018) Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts, an exhibition that explores the relationship between quiltmaking and map-making, will open July 16 at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City, Queens. The exhibition will run through October 3, 2018. Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts is an invitation to read quilts as maps. Spanning the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries, the nearly twenty quilts on view draw from a range of materials, techniques, and motifs to reveal that quilts, like maps, contain whole worlds into themselves.

“Infused with history and memory, quilts are living records of our traditions, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and future aspirations,” says Sarah Margolis-Pineo, the assistant curator for the Self-Taught Genius Gallery, who organized the exhibition. “In the same way that a map is a pocket-size abstraction of the world beyond what can be seen, a quiltmaker’s choice of fabric and design reveals insights into the topography of her world and her place within it.”

The exhibition illustrates a visual relationship between quilting and cartography, highlighting quilts comprised of piecework that resemble aerial views of city blocks and roadways. Both quilts and maps are based on established systems that employ repeating geometric patterns and colors to establish a unique sense of order and balance. As objects, quilts and maps provide comfort and a sense of safety; they make the unknown known, or the unknown home. And, both can be removed from their utilitarian purposes and hung on the wall and appreciated as art.

Handstitched Worlds invites visitors to trace the paths of individual stories and experiences that give shape to our world and our relationships, while revealing information about larger historical and cultural trends and moments,” says Stacy C. Hollander, acting executive director of the American Folk Art Museum. “The exhibition includes evocative quilts from the museum’s collection as well as quilt-like assemblages by contemporary self-taught artists.”

A centerpiece of the show will be Our Queens, a participatory art activity. Visitors will be offered an embroidery hoop, needle, and colored floss to embroider whatever they wish on the map of the borough of Queens printed on a 50 x 40 inch piece of canvas—a notation in the Queens neighborhood where they live or work, a pattern on the street where they were born, their initials where they went to school, or perhaps a design evoking a memory of time spent in the borough. Previous embroidery or sewing skills are not needed, as basic instruction will be provided. “Together, visitors will create a map of Queens reflecting our story—a landscape that merges personal experience with the collective space of the borough,” say Margolis-Pineo.

Nearly twenty quilts, both traditional and contemporary, will be in the exhibition. They will be joined by a number of maps by artist Jerry Gretzinger (b. 1942).  Whereas the early quilts are constructed using traditional cottons, wools, and silks, the contemporary quilts are made of alternative materials, including found wood, metal, and salvaged plastic trash bags.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • The Sarah Ann Garges Appliqué Bedcover made from cotton, silk, wool, and wool embroidery. This unique 1853 quilt was made by a young woman from a Mennonite family in anticipation of her marriage. It shows farm life, animals, and stylized florals on a vivid orange ground.
  • A dazzling, improvisational star quilt created in 1977 by Nora McKeown Ezell (1917–2007), an Alabama-based quiltmaker. In 1989, Ezell created A Tribute to the Civil Righters of Alabama, commissioned by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. She was honored in 1992 with a Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Contrary to Hearsay, He Wasn’t the Devil, a mixed-media assemblage made in 2014 by New Orleans–based artist Jean-Marcel St. Jacques (b. 1972) who began creating quilt-like constructions from wood and objects salvaged from his Hurricane Katrina–damaged home in the historic Treme neighborhood.


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About the Self-Taught Genius Gallery

The American Folk Art Museum, the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad, opened the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in September 2017. It is a space devoted solely to exhibiting works from the museum’s more than 8000-piece permanent collection. Major support for the Gallery is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. Significant support is also provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation, with additional support from 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. Admission to the Gallery is free. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.  The address is 47-29 32nd Place, Long Island City, Queens, two and a half blocks from the 33 St. stop on the 7 local subway.