OK, Modern Quilters, you win.
You take pictures of your quilts any way you want. Drape them over the furniture, hang them on trees, drag them behind the pickup truck, line the cat’s litter box with them. Put the photos on your blogs and I promise not to care.
Except that I feel sad, that perhaps we’re taking a step backwards.
For centuries, women functioned as nameless production units who might have spent years making beautiful quilts or lace or crocheted tablecloths, yet their gorgeous work was denigrated and disrespected. Towards the end of the last century, a timely combination of feminist awareness and broadened sensibilities in the art world changed that attitude.
Quilt projects in many states encouraged ordinary people to haul quilts out of the attic and being them in to be identified, documented and appreciated. Scholarship put names to many of the beautiful pieces that had been anonymous. And the rise of the quilting industry supported millions of people who fell in love with a dying craft and decided to embrace and revitalize it. (Including you, Modern Quilters, who wouldn't be having half so much fun without your rotary cutters, designer fabric lines, fancy sewing machines, workshops, books, magazines, TV shows, blogs and podcasts about quilting.)
Many of us who loved quilts were delighted at these developments. We saw our favorite things and, by extension, ourselves, given new respect, new value. You could announce in mixed company that you made quilts and men might even be impressed! You might even be able to make money at it!
A small minority of those enthusiasts took quilting to a new plateau, aspiring to be seen as artists rather than or in addition to craftsmen. Although quilts are now seen in museums and galleries, and a considerable number of venues such as Quilt National are available for such work to be exhibited, it’s a continuing struggle for these artists to be taken seriously.
It’s not only the would-be artists who struggle to be respected; quilters who want only to make nice things for their families to use often find themselves misunderstood and undervalued. Every flea market in the land offers painstakingly handstitched tablecloths, handkerchiefs and tea towels that took some woman hundreds of hours to make – and now not one of her descendents can be bothered to even keep them in a drawer let alone use and treasure them. Every few months the Quiltart list has a new round of letters from people who made beautiful gifts for their alleged loved ones but got neither gratitude nor understanding in return, or from people who want to sell their work but can't net more than five cents an hour because buyers don't see it as valuable.
I think it’s sad that the somewhat higher ground, won by a lot of people through hard and lengthy struggle, is now being conceded without a qualm. If somebody wants to make work for her home rather than for the art quilt show, that’s fine, and I know that there are a lot more people out there like that than the reverse. But if that person publicly maintains that all quilts should be functional, that it’s boring and silly to hang a quilt on the wall, that it’s rude to suggest that a museum ought to treat work on display with respect, then she’s trying to drag the rest of us back down to the bad old days.
Perhaps some of this is generational. Those who weren't there to see the important breakthroughs, such as the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, or on a lesser level, the elevation of women's traditional craft to higher degrees of importance, don't always appreciate those accomplishments. Instead, they take them for granted.
What do you think?