held this past weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s an intense four days of study centers, tours and research paper presentations, all related to quilt
history—from last month to the seventeenth century.
One of the tours was to the Textile Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln Campus. There, Professor Michael James led us through galleries, collections rooms, fashion design studios, and into the room where he prints fabrics for his quilts. It was enlightening for me to hear his story, see how he works, and understand his transformation from painter to art quilter.
Michael James grew up and was educated in art schools in Massachusetts. He started quilting shortly after grad school and quickly became an early leader in the art quilt movement. James has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading quilters, with works in corporate and private collections as well as museums around the world—except in the New England Quilt Museum! We have long wished for a piece of his work for our permanent collection, especially one of the early pieces he made while still living in Somerset, MA.
I was studying one of the many exhibits of quilts to enjoy during the seminar when my cell phone rang. It was NEQM former curator Anita Loscalzo and she insisted that I meet her in the Vendors Room, where she had just found a treasure. A treasure indeed! It was an early Michael James, signed and dated 1986. And, best of all, the price was affordable, considering our very (very!) modest budget for the care and conservation of our collection. (The budget doesn't normally allow us to purchase pieces for the collection. Thankfully, generous supporters of the museum have DONATED virtually all the pieces we own.) My thanks to Julie Silber for keeping the quilt under the table until I could get there! I packed it up carefully and carried it aboard the flight home, on tenterhooks the whole time. When I arrived at the Museum this morning, I unpacked it, hung it in the Classroom Gallery, and surprised our staff and volunteers with our latest acquisition.
As we round out the events of our 25th anniversary year, I think it fitting that we celebrate with the acquisition of an important piece from a New England fiber artist. Do come to the Museum next week to see our latest treasure. We’ll keep it up for a bit, but then it will be put away in the vault to rest until re-emerges for SILK!, our spring exhibition (April 19-July 7, 2013).
~ Pam Weeks, Binney Family Curator