Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To our friends in Newtown

Our deepest sympathies to the people of Newtown, Connecticut.  
To our old friend, Scudder Smith, Publisher/Editor of the Newtown Bee, his family, his staff and their families, and all their friends and neighbors in the beautiful community of Newtown.  

The indescribable shock and pain of an unspeakable crime have, as Scudder and his son, David, said, knocked the breath from us and broken our hearts.  That is true of everyone we know outside of Newtown, as well.

Most of all, to the families of the 20  children and the 6 school personnel whose lives were tragically taken in this incomprehensible act, our thoughts are with you, and there are no words to express our sorrow.

Blanche Greenstein
Thomas K. Woodard

Antique Quilts: Celebrating the Holidays

Historically, some of the finest quilts were made to be brought out for special occasions and important events only, like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and New Year's. These were the quilts that were carefully handled and preserved, not the utilitarian quilts that were made for everyday use. Holidays offered a time to display the makers' best; those sometimes spectacular displays of exceptional needlework created at home.  

19th- and early 20th-Century mothers and grandmothers were not distracted by things like TV, or jet trips around the world, so they found the time, even while managing a household, to give their undivided attention to quilting. The results were, at times staggering - beautiful, colorful spreads richly filled with fine quilting stitchery. In a way, each quilt in itself was a celebration of the seamstresses’ hard work, determination, and imaginative use of materials at hand, all peculiarly American. Each quilt is a handmade textile greeting card offering warmth and comfort, a personal expression of hope for peace and good will from the quilters of our past.    

Twenty pieced "Sunbursts" explode on a white ground, surrounded with star-like floral motifs and a radiant diamond border. The curious curvilinear motifs appliqued in all four corners add an unusual, art nouveau-like finishing touch. Quilters in 19th-Century America possessed remarkably creative approaches to making bed covers of extraordinary workmanship. 

Here is an exceptional example of a finely appliqued and quilted traditional bed cover of the 19th-Century. Made by a highly skilled quilter, this spread is extraordinarily stitched with elaborate detail. The scalloped inner borders and edges display the work of only the most advanced quilt maker. The "Swag and Tassel" border is on three of the four sides of the quilt, following a nineteenth century tradition which leaves one side for the head of the bed.

Exceptionally large, this finely stitched and quilted spread in a traditional, surprisingly flamboyant pattern, has a mate with slight differences. Pairs or complementing quilts were sometimes made for the dowries of the maker's daughters. It would be difficult to calculate not only the number of stitches but also the amount of love and devotion that went into the making of these outstanding spreads.

The maker set her sights high on this ambitious project - the creation of two magnificent quilts of equal beauty and craftsmanship, perhaps for two daughters to begin their marriages, a popular tradition among 19th-Century American quilters. Slight variations, such as the inner and outer borders, differentiate the two pieces, but both equally retain their rare beauty, thus insuring that neither daughter could ever feel slighted.

Textile folk art flourished in 19th-Century America. It was a time when quilters applied their energies and creativity towards producing bed covers that were not only astonishingly beautiful but uniquely American. Using whatever materials were available and working at home, quilters managed to create pieces that transcended the lowly bedspread and were sometimes worthy of hanging as wall art, although that is a 20th-Century idea. Here, pieced "Lilies" alternate with appliqued "Trees" in a graphic design, delineated by triangle "Sawtooth" outlines, with an outer border of "Vines of Blossoms and Leaves". Quilters never seemed to run out of steam, paying careful attention to every detail all the way to the carefully stitched edges.

 Antique quilt:  "Baskets". American.  Late 19th-Century.  

Although there are many variations of the "Baskets" motif, few are as effectively presented as this example with a rigidly exact arrangement of the motifs.  The "Baskets" are skillfully pieced of solid red with green calicoes, with solid red squares punctuating each quilt block.  The precision of little tin soldiers comes to mind, all lined up on the diagonal across the white ground.  Angular basket handles add a sharp edge to the overall design, and the crisp texture of straight line quilting on a muslin ground provides an effective contrast.

Quilts, America's favorite folk art, are especially welcome to enjoy during the holidays. In some ways, even just viewing their images may offer respite from the tough realities that accompany this 2012 holiday season.  

We at Woodard & Greenstein send you our best wishes for the holidays! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Looking Back

Every so often a journalist will flatter my partner, Blanche Greenstein, and myself by interviewing us as "influential" or "notable" in expanding people's interest in quilts over the last few decades.  Suddenly feeling like dinosaurs, we are reduced to stumped silence by questions like "What did you do to influence the quilt world, and why?"  The last thing that ever would have occurred to two young, passionate quilt aficionados such as us in the early 1970's was to embark on doing something important and/or significant.  

Our prime focus was to get out there and find the best quilts possible, those amazing and peculiarly American marvels that quilters in the 19th- and early 20th-Century quilters created.  Competition was lively, and getting to flea markets like Shupp's Grove in Pennsylvania before dawn was imperative. Working hurriedly with a flashlight through fresh loads of goodies being brought in by country dealers, was exhausting and, sometimes, exhilarating.  "The lure of the chase" as it has been called was foremost in our minds.  

The delight at occasionally discovering genuine masterpieces is hard to describe.  Those real treasures of the quilting world were on this planet before we arrived, and hopefully will be here long after our departure.  We simply followed our passion, and, with a little luck and a lot of help from friends and clients, we are still at it.  To read more about our partnership, please see our web portrait on Quilt Alliance: http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org/treasures/main.php?id=5-16-C