Pasadena Museum of History Quilt Exhibition

Pasadena Museum of History Quilt Exhibition

On April 7, 2016, the Friends of Robinson Gardens took a trip to the Pasadena Museum of History’s exhibition, “Crossing the Atlantic Quilt by Quilt,” which was curated by Maggi Gordon.

The Friends of Robinson Gardens were thrilled to go on this adventure as Maggi is a Friend, one of our very own. A scholar, quilt maker, and collector, Maggi served as our supremely interesting and informative tour guide. Because she curated this exhibit by drawing from her own significant collection of both English and American quilts, she provided us with great insight into how and why English quilts have migrated to America, the different groups who made these quilts, and how Americans have created differences in quilt designs. She gave us an overview of such styles as the Wholecloth quilt, which as it sounds, is made from a single piece of fabric or several that are stitched together to look as one. The quilting itself is what provides the pattern.  Due to the high cost of fabric in Colonial America, quilting never caught on as much in America as it did in England from the 16th century onward. However, many quilts came to America with the settlers from England.

Wholecloth Example

Strippies was a style that started in Durham and Northumberland in Northeast England. These quilts are made up of long stripes of fabric. This made the quilt more economical because you could alternate expensive fabrics and inexpensive strips of fabric. Sadly, these were often made by widows of coal miners as a way to try to survive.

Stripples Example

In addition, we learned about the Block Patchwork quilt that was quickly adopted by early American pioneers who used the quilts as a way to stay warm when the only heat was coming from the stoves and often inadequate fireplaces. One exquisite English patchwork quilt was made from silk ribbons and embroidered black velvet centers.

Patchwork Example

Many other examples were shown and described as well, such as a display of tops. These were unfinished pieces that were never quilted together. Interestingly, men who were in rehabilitation after war would make quilts as a form of therapy and tailors that traveled with the troop would also use scraps of uniform fabric. Also there was a technique called Appliqué that involves cutting a motif from one fabric and “applying” it to a background.’

Appliqué Example

Even with all of this said, there was so much more that we learned. Plus, all of us wanted to hear more about America’s quilt culture. At our prompting, Maggi has promised to give a talk at the Virginia Robinson Gardens on a very special quilt making community located in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, located on a sliver of land only 8 miles long and 5 miles wide, alongside the Alabama River. This isolated African-American community developed a unique style of quilt making, breaking the tradition of perfect symmetry. Instead there is a much more organic and innovative quality along with a relaxed geometric execution. An example of a quilt from Gee’s Bend that is in the exhibit is included in the photo seen below.

Gee's Bend Example

After this excellent tour, we were fortunate to have one of the weavers involved in creating the adjacent exhibition titled “Strings Attached: Tradition Meets Contemporary Woven Art” walk us through the entire exhibit.  The work in the show was created by members of the Bobbinwinder’s Guild of the San Gabriel Valley. The show was “inspired by modern global aesthetics and production techniques, as well as historical techniques of weaving and design.” The Bobbinwinder’s Guild is a remarkable sixty years old. In 1955, some fifteen weavers founded the organization. Although focusing on ancient techniques, the execution of these quilts can be very non-traditional and contemporary as seen in various pieces in the exhibition. Weaving demonstrations take place every Saturday from 2-4pm during the run of the show.

Before we started the tours, we were given a short introduction by one of the full-time staff at the Pasadena Museum of History. The exhibition is in the museum gallery space adjacent to both the historic Fleming Estate and the only Finnish Folk Art Museum in the United States. It was founded in 1949 when Yrjo Alfred Paloheimo, who served as Finland’s consular officer in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, purchased a 1910 Swiss chalet-like structure constructed of redwood with a stone roof. He moved it to the grounds of the Fenyes Estate where the consulate was located for 17 years.  The unusual building served as a guest house, sauna and folk art museum.  Today the Fenyes Estate is open for tours.

The Fenyes Mansion is a 1906 Beaux Arts-style architectural jewel. Dr. Adalbert and Eva Fenyes built their home on Pasadena’s famed “Millionaire’s Row.” It still contains the original period furnishings and family heirlooms as well as a California Plein Air art collection. The mansion was designed by Robert Farquhar with a later addition by Sylvanus Marston.

Following the museum tour we went to Old Town Pasadena where we were served a fabulous lunch at the Green Street Tavern. We were told they have an excellent Happy Hour, and I do look forward to going back for that when we go to see the Fenyes Mansion, the Finnish Folk Art Museum and other historic and cultural sites in Pasadena.

Post by Marcella Ruble
Friends of Robinson Gardens member


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