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International Museum Day: QUILT INDEX DIGITAL REPOSITORY EXPANDS WITH INTERNATIONAL COLLECTIONS, FIRST POSTING OF CANADIAN QUILTS

 

As it begins an ambitious new plan to add international quilts, the Quilt Index announces the first posting of historic quilts from the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.           
 
The Royal Alberta Museum boasts a fine collection of about 75 quilts related to the province's history, and so far about 45 of them have been posted to the Index's online archive. Eventually, many more of the vintage quilts in the museum's collection will be added, as well as other heritage quilts that are still being documented from regional museums and private collections.          
 
"The Royal Alberta Museum is thrilled to be the first Canadian contributor to the Quilt Index," said Lucie Heins, Assistant Curator of Western Canadian History for the museum. "As quilts become more and more the topic of scholarly discourse, the Quilt Index is indeed an invaluable resource. It permits researchers to access important data from pattern designs to stitching and assembling techniques for documenting the material culture of quilting."          
 
"The Quilt Index is a remarkable resource that is also becoming a laboratory for cutting-edge research by new teams of collaborators drawn from diverse humanities and science disciplines. They are finding this open-source visual and text repository enables them to pose and investigate new humanities and science questions," said Marsha MacDowell, curator, Michigan State University Museum, professor of art and art history, MSU, and a co-director of The Quilt Index.
 
Heins said that quilts are an important part of the museum's collection and help tell the story of its settlement and historical development. "Although eastern Canada has celebrated its 400th anniversary, we were not settled until the late 1880s. Some of the fine quilts in our collection were not made here but carried by those who migrated to Alberta to ranch or for the fur trade."
 
Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt - Royal Alberta Museum One particularly striking example is a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt (top image) that the museum believes was brought to Alberta from Louisville, Kentucky by the Paul Booker Reed family. Heins said that Reed was a mayor of Louisville who later moved his family to Seattle and then to a ranch in the Fort Macleod area of western Canada.
 
There are also a number of crazy quilts (lower image)  in the museum's collection that are remarkably vivid, made between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Many follow fairly familiar crazy quilt schemes in their use of luxury fabrics like velvet and silk and their embellishment with lots of embroidery stitches. But a vividly atypical one was made by Margaret Fraser, wife of a fur trader who was at Fort Edmonton in the 1870s and 1880s. This quilt has been dated to 1938, and is filled with typical '30s fabrics: it is rewarding to use the Index's drag and zoom tool, to look up close at the astonishing number and variety of patterned fabrics.
 
This particular collection will be one that historians and Index fans will want to keep revisiting because of the ambitious plans by the Royal Alberta Museum to continue adding content. Among other related projects, curator Lucie Heins is working on a newly discovered trove of records documenting some 1,000 quilts from private collections in Southern Alberta. These records are being donated to the museum, and eventually, some of these quilts will be added to the Index.           
 
Crazy Quilt - Royal Alberta Museum The Quilt Index website provides centralized access to nearly 50,000 records, including quilts from state or regional documentation projects, museum and private collections. The Quilt Index, launched online in 2003, is a joint project of Michigan State University Museum; MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University; and theAlliance for American Quilts.
 
The Quilt Index merges tradition with technology and springs from the work of a unique team of researchers and experts committed to making significant, quilt-related data widely accessible to both scholars and the general public. Until recently, all the quilts on the Index have come from U.S.-based museums and projects. But now the Index is beginning to work with museums and documentation projects abroad, and is pleased that the Royal Alberta Museum is one of the first to start posting. There are also quilts on the Index from South Africa, and many more countries will be joining the mix in future years.
 
Applications are now being accepted from institutions or quilt documentation projects to become Quilt Index contributors, with a rolling deadline.
 
Related:
The MSU Museum will present a new exhibit, "Patterns of Inquiry: Quilts in Research and Education," that explores the uses of the Quilt Index and more.