Amish Abstractions & other quilty distractions

On another of our cross-city hikes, the Laundry King and I took in the current exhibition at the De Young fine arts museum in San Francisco: Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown. The exhibition runs until 6 June 2010 and features approximately 48 quilts dating from the 1880s to the 1940s that have been made in Amish communities in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

The collection includes a spectacular feathered star with a nine-patch border that looks remarkably like 21st century pixels. Other pieces featured classic patterns such as Center Diamond, Bars, and Sunshine and Shadow. Roman Stripe, Ocean Waves, Bowtie, and Tumbling Blocks. I was especially moved to see several crib quilts. Exhibitions often display large quilts but there was something poignant about these smaller pieces designed to keep babies snug and warm.

Amish Abstractions The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 128 page, hardcover catalogue which includes essays by contributions by three quilt experts: Joe Cunningham, a well-known quilt artist, author, and lecturer; Robert Shaw, a former curator at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont; and Janneken Smucker, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware specializing in quilts from the Amish and Mennonite traditions. Needless to say, my suitcase is now a little heavier.

I confess that I had never heard of Joe Cunningham and only stumbled across his blog when I was trying to find out what happened with my favourite SFO quilt store (Black Cat Quilts) which is no more. Anyway, when I read one of Joe’s blog posts ahead of the Amish Abstractions exhibition, I left a comment and that turned into an e-mail exchange and an invitation to meet up his studio during my current visit. What a treat!

Joe shared a selection of quilts that incorporate wonderfully expressive lines made out of bias. You can see some of them in his online gallery including Bend in the River which features freeform Baptist fan hand quilting. Joe embraces the blanket origins of quilts and prefers to work on a “human scale” so that his quilts can wrap a person. His studio is big enough to store these larger works hanging but, despite this space, I was intrigued by the absence of any design wall (he prefers to work horizontally and, indeed, not to know what the final piece is going to look like!)

Anyway, more than two hours passed very quickly and Joe was very generous with his time and insights. He also gave me a gift of a copy of his Joe the Quilter musical DVD and one of his Sunrays quilt kits.
Sunrays Quilt Kit
The quilt kit has 7 yards of fabric, acrylic templates and comprehensive instructions to make a queen size quilt and Joe mentioned that he will be reducing the price from $89.95 to $49.95 (plus shipping and handling). Contact Joe for more details.

See what can happen when you leave a comment on someone’s blog!


  1. What a fantastic opportunity! I’m so glad your blog comment was so fruitful. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thanks so much for the introduction to Joe Cunningham. “Bend in the River” is inspiring, and I appreciate your noting that the lines are done with bias. I’ve been working so much on curved piecing–am glad to see this other way of getting long curved lines into a design.

  3. Wow, what fabulous adventures you are having, thanks for posting.