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Why Quilts Matter Documentary Series

By: Jessica Nichols, Editor of FaveQuilts.com

Why Quilts MatterWhy Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics
Produced by The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc.
www.whyquiltsmatter.org
Reviewed by Jessica Nichols, Editor of FaveQuilts.com

Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics
is a nine-part documentary series that gives a comprehensive overview of the quilt world, from dealing in antique quilts, to studying quilts, to collecting modern art quilts. The structure of episodes in the series allows each viewer to choose segments that are most interesting to them, and the series as a whole provides a detailed introduction to the quilt industry.

The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. produced Why Quilts Matter as a documentary series that would give viewers an unbiased look at quilting from many different viewpoints. Interviews with art quilters, quilt collectors, quilt scholars, and museum curators all contribute to the broad perspective of the quilt world presented in Why Quilts Matter. The series begins with Quilts 101: Antique and Contemporary Quilts. The title is a bit misleading, as the episode addresses the definition of a quilt more than the difference between antique and contemporary quilts. Traditional quilters and those viewers unfamiliar with the quilt world will be surprised to discover the variety of arts and crafts that "quilting encompasses! This first episode also offers tips for viewers who are interested in collecting, buying, and selling quilts as a hobby or as a career. The second episode, Quilts Bring History Alive, satisfies both the history buff and the quilter who wishes to see her craft vindicated as a valuable cultural contribution. Quilts are presented as historical artifacts capable of chronicling both family history and cultural history for future generations. In Episode 3: The Quilt Marketplace, the series delves back into the world of buying and selling quilts, focusing first on contempary art quilts and then detailing the history and current state of the antique quilt market. Interviews with experts provide perspectives on how a quilt is valued, either as a work of art or as a piece of history.

The focus on discerning the value of a quilt in the third episode flows smoothly into the topic of the fourth episode: What is Art? This segment looks at the politics that dictate whether quilts are considered artwork, and if so, which quilts are praised as "art" and which quilts are relegated to the realm of "craft." Viewers who grew up with handmade quilts on their beds may be surprised to learn that not all quilting is simply crafting, and even art museums have displayed exhibits of quilts as artwork. However, the episode also discusses the differences between "art quilts" made with the intention of displaying them as artwork and quilts that are truly artful, regardless of their original purpose. This controversy takes on new meaning in Episode 5: Gee's Bend "The Most Famous Quilts in America?" which tells the story of the quilters of Gee's Bend. This isolated African-American community in Alabama produced some of the most well-known quilts in American history. Their graphic pieced tops, often made using recycled material, are considered artwork by many museums and collectors while simultaneously looked down upon by many quilters. The role of quilts as museum pieces is discussed further in Episode 6: How Quilts Have Been Viewed and Collected, which focuses heavily on quilts in museum collections but also touches on the appeal of quilts for private collectors.

The seventh episode, my favorite in the series and the segment that most drew me to Why Quilts Matter, presents quilts from a feminist perspective in Empowering Women One Quilt at a Time. The documentary asserts that quilts were a medium for self-expression and liberation for earlier generations of women. I am forever intrigued by the stories of women who took a seemingly powerless domestic practice and used it to influence others. The final two episodes of the series shift to broader examinations of the quilt world. Quilt Nation -- 20,000,000 and Counting! overviews the quilt industry, providing impressive statistics about the number of quilters in the U.S., the size of the industry, and the two largest quilt shows in the U.S. The series wraps up with a look a quilt scholarship, both as an academic area of concentration and as a personal hobby. This last episode debunks several romantic myths about quilts, but leaves the viewer with the lasting impression that the truth about quilts and their role in history, art, and social sciences can be much more fascinating than the tall tales!

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