A brief history of and update on the Michigan Quilt Project, an ongoing voyage of discovery !...
For those unfamiliar with the history of the Michigan Quilt Project, a brief introduction is in order. In the early 1980s Kentucky quilters created a catalogue of quilts in their state. It inspired other states and was the beginning of a national movement. Michigan began its own inventory in 1984.
Under the direction of the Michigan State University Museum, quilt lovers all over the state responded with great enthusiasm. During 1985 and 1986 special Quilt Discovery Days were organized and advertised and quilts, both old and new, were brought to local churches and community centers. There they were photographed and the history of the quilts, quiltmakers and quilt owners were recorded. Each quilt was given its own inventory number and file. This information is stored in the Michigan State University Museum’s Traditional Arts Research Collections where it is available, by appointment, to those interested in doing research, education, and exhibition projects.
The first project that came out of the Michigan Quilt Project was a 1987 exhibition and book, Michigan Quilts: 150 Years of a Textile Tradition edited by Marsha MacDowell and Ruth Fitzgerald and published by Michigan State University Museum. In the exhibit and book we learned "a quilt is more than a bedcovering. It is a textbook of information. In every piece of fabric, completed quilt, and pattern name, one or more stories are found. Some stories are learned by looking at a scrap of fabric, a block, or an entire quilt. Others by inquiring about the quilt and quilters. Personal or family history, art community life, religious beliefs and practices, business and political history, and more are gleaned from these textiles, their makers and the owners."
Since that first exhibit, it is impressive to take stock of the activities and outcomes that the MQP has accomplished to date. The initial survey set the stage for doing more in-depth research projects on more specific topics associated with quilt types, quilting traditions, individual quilters, and quilts. Since 1984 these research projects have included studies of one Detroit family's Depression-era quilting, African-American quiltmaking traditions in Michigan, Upper Peninsula quilts, state fair quilt winners, feed sack quilts, fundraising quilts, NAMES project quilts, and North American Indian and Native Hawaiian quilts.
The Michigan Quilt Project Inventory now numbers over 10,000 files and volunteers continue to send in forms and hold Quilt Discovery Days in communities throughout Michigan.
Currently the Michigan State University Museum is working as a lead partner with Michigan State’s MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts and Letters Online on a comprehensive on-line research tool providing wide public access to information about quilted bed coverings, both publicly and privately held, and including the documentation and images of quilts and quilt makers from state and regional quilt projects.