Hystercine Rankin (1929–2010), Untitled Family History Quilt, Port Gibson, Mississippi c. 1990–2000. Cotton with ink, 40 x 62 in. American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of Evelyn S. Meyer, 2005.10.3.

What That Quilt Knows About Me at the Folk Art Museum in New York

March 16–May 28, 2023

American Folk Art Museum 

For more information visit folkartmuseum.org

Susan Arrowood, “Sacret Bibel” Quilt Top, Possibly West Chester, Pennsylvania, c. 1875–1895. Cotton, silk, wool, and ink, with cotton embroidery 88½ x 72 in. American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of the Amicus Foundation, Inc., and Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, 1986.20.1

There are so many ways to tell a story, but there is something especially charming and indeed rather poignant about folk art quilts and the act of quilt making. Folk art quilts come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and they range from abstract, boldly geometric designs to elaborate narrative ones. Each quilt is lovingly made by hand, and very often they contain important social, cultural and historical information.

The exhibition What That Quilt Knows About Me, at the Folk Art Museum in New York, brings together around 40 quilts and related works of art based upon the idea, as the press release says “that quilts have the capacity for “knowing” or containing information about the human experience.” In short, quilts are presented here as narrative instruments or what the curators call “collections of intimate stories.”

The exhibition seeks to highlight how quilt makers have always incorporated and used a wide range of materials, techniques and ideas to tell their stories, sometimes in a very personal way, inviting audiences to enter the lives and minds of the makers. The works on view come from many countries and cultures and span from the 19th through 21st centuries. Makers range from a pair of enslaved sisters living in Kentucky before the Civil War to a convalescent British soldier during the Crimean War. Every piece has a fascinating story to tell.

One highlight, brimming with narrative content, is by Hystercine Rankin (1929–2010) and consists of a grid of small vignettes depicting scenes of family life — faith and toil are constant themes in this work. Titled Untitled Family History Quilt, it was created in Port Gibson, Mississippi c. 1990– 2000. Made of cotton with ink it is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, a gift of Evelyn S. Meyer in 2005.