Amish Treasures: In Manhattan – May/June 2007

Lone Star Quilt, 75 3/4″ x 73 3/4″. An anonymous Amish quilter in Ohio made this cotton Lone Star
quilt between 1925 and 1935.
amish treasures
by Kristen Rohrs Schmitt
Head for New York City to view one of the country’s most
signifigant Amish quilt collections.
The American Folk Art Museum, at two venues in midtown Manhattan, is displaying a
collection of 123 Amish quilts from the Midwest and Pennsylvania. The cotton and wool quilts date from the late nineteenth century through the 1940s.
All are machine pieced and hand quilted, in a brilliant array of colors and patterns. “Our collection provides the opportunity to survey the sheer beauty
and exemplary workmanship in a broad base of Amish communities,” says Stacy C. Hollander, Senior Curator and Director of Exhibitions at the
One of the most remarkable aspects of the collection is that many of the quilts were obtained directly from the families who made or inherited them.
The bulk of the group is ninety-eight Midwestern quilts from Indiana and Ohio, where there were large settlements of Amish. The popularity of needle
arts and proficiency of the quilters are well represented in the museum’s exquisite examples.
Crazy Patch, 88″ x 75″. In 1903, Leah Zook Hartzler made this sophisticated and restrained
version of the familiar Victorian pattern on the occasion of her sister Lydia’s wedding to Daniel J. Yoder,
in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. The wool and cotton patches are outlined with herringbone stitches in a
variety of colored cotton embroidery thread. The corners of each block are anchored with pumpkin-colored
squares, forming four patches admist the free-form shapes.
Highlights from the Midwestern group include familiar patterns that modern quilters may not associate with traditional Pennsylvania
Amish quilts. These include Ocean Wave, Lone Star, and Tumbling Blocks. According to many historians, cotton Midwestern quilts display a wider variety
of patterns than those found in wool examples from Pennsylvania. This may be because Midwestern Amish communities there are intermingled with non-Amish
(or English as they are called) neighbors, exposing quilters to the design influences of the outside world.
Center Star with Corner Stars, 76 3/4″ x 82 1/2″. Strong colors, unusual borders, and original piecing
are the hallmarks of Amish quilts from Arthur, Illinois, as in this one made by a member of the Glick family
sometime between 1890 and 1900. The wool quilt has cotton backing and is stitched with cross-hatching and Amish waves
in the borders.
The museum’s Pennsylvania quilts reflect a more conservative aesthetic, befitting their tightly-knit Northeastern religious communities.
The main artistic focus of the Pennsylvania quilts is the richly-detailed hand quilting patterns. So many of our modern motifs are drawn from these traditions that
they have become a part of every quilter’s stitching vocabulary. We find inspiration in graceful, undulating feathers, wreaths, overlapping pumpkin seeds
(also called orange peel), snowflakes, and simple cross-hatched lines. These quilts are further embellished with waves (also called Baptist fans), tulips, fruit, and
Double Wedding Ring, 66½” x 84″. This circa 1930-1940 Pennsylvania quilt by Mrs Andy G Byler is working in cotton, wool,
linen, and rayon, with overall cross-hatched quilting stitches. The bold, solid colors are a departure from the more common pale pastels found in non-Amish
Wedding Ring quilts.
“The consideration of quilts as works of art emerged in the 1970s. Amish quilts represent an aspect of quilts that made this leap possible
because of their bold and exciting color, and graphic patterns that resonate with contemporary art,” says Hollander. Today, we are lucky to have the American
Folk Art Museum as a repository of Amish quilts and quilt history.
Sailboats, 72″ x 86¼”. A mid-twentieth-century departure from strictly geometric Amish patterns, this representational cotton quilts
by Amanda Lehman of Topeka, Indiana, utilizes traditional dark, rich solid colors. Note the sinuous leaf-and-vine in the brown inner border, echoed by the
strong crossed cables in the outer green border.
The American Folk Art Museum’s Midwestern Amish quilts are on rotating view at the Lincoln Center branch in the Eva and Morris Fed
Gallery, 2 Lincoln Square at Columbus Avenue between 65th and 66th streets. A few quilts from the main collection are always on view at the Museum of
American Folk Art, 45 West 53rd St., New York, NY 10019, 212-265-1040. For more information visit To read more about the museum, purchase American
Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum
, by Stacy C. Hollander, Brook Davis Anderson, and Gerard C. Wertkin, published
by the American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

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