infinite variety

True brilliance is fleeting, it turns out, because the Infinite Variety quilt exhibit, featuring the collection of Joanna Rose, was on display here in New York city for only six days. It was phenomenal, and I hope that she, and the American Folk Art Museum can work out getting it on display elsewhere. But for now, let me show you some of the many, many pictures that I took of the display…

I’d learned about the exhibit a few months ago, when I received an email inviting me to a reception for Bryn Mawr alums. Joanna Rose, the collector of the 1000+ quilts (of which 650 were on display), graduated from BMC in ’52. The curator of the exhibit, Elizabeth Vogel Warren, graduated in ’72. (I graduated in ’99.) I RSVP’d as quickly as I could—I didn’t know more than that it would be a display of red and white quilts and that there would naturally be wine, as all good Bryn Mawr receptions have wine!

My friend Tina joined me, and we got there early so that we’d have time to see the quilts before the reception began. I had been told it was impressive, but only saw photos of it the morning I went, and I was kicking myself for not bringing all of my lenses along! As it was I had just the 30mm to work with.

I filled my memory card with shots. I couldn’t stop. There was this feeling of enormity, of being a part of something magical—I had to do my best to capture it from every possible angle.

Several quilting friends later mentioned how they were so inspired to quilt as a result of seeing the show. I actually felt no direct compulsion to quilt. I felt a compulsion to collect.

Joanna says she bought most of the quilts at garage sales, estate sales, or along the side of the road—often for very little. One by one she grew a collection, and in the end I think the whole is far far greater than the sum of its parts.

The show, designed in every way from the lighting to the scaffolding, by Thinc Design, was placed in the Park Ave Armory as Joanna’s 80th birthday present from her husband; the fact that it was free was her gift to the city.

She didn’t speak at the reception, but she was there, a spitfire if you ever met one. She definitely embodied the Bryn Mawr spirit—the feisty woman who gets what she wants! Elizabeth Warren, the curator, mentioned that she had been at the exhibit every day not because she had to be, but because she was drawn to be.

I regretted that I couldn’t come back again before it would be taken down. I wanted to soak it all up more. The way the quilts were the same but different; the fact that you could identify certain motifs and traditions right there—every where you looked there was something else to see.

Everyone I saw stood with mouth agape, head tilted back. Cameras were in constant use.

If I could see it again, I’d leave the camera at home, and allow myself to just experience the space. It truly felt infinite.

13 Responses to infinite variety

  1. gale (she shoots sheep shots) says:

    I am so sorry to have missed this. You summed up all the things that make this so amazing: her focus of knowing what she liked, being specific and going for it (as a collection but nice metaphor, eh?), her spirit of generosity in sharing it with the public, her support and elevation of handmade. Love, love love.

  2. elizabetht says:

    every single picture i see of this exhibit is even more amazing. the simplicity just… i don’t know. i really, really hope they exhibit it again, because i would love to see it, too. but knowing taht she just collected these is even MORE amazing – i somehow thought it was the kind of thing where the organizer put a call out to her quilting friends – “okay guys, make me a red and white quilt”… just… woah.

  3. Monica says:

    Beautiful, they are incredibly beautiful. I know exactly what you mean when you say you they make you want to collect…..I wish I could have seen it.

  4. Eileen says:

    Thanks for sharing your photos. I’ve seen so many on other sites but really love the way you captured the exhibit. I hope that they will be shown again some place as I would love to see them in person.

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