Monday, March 12, 2018

Visit to the Mercer Museum - African American Quilts: From Traditional to Contemporary

I was thrilled to hear that the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA is hosting another quilt exhibit this year - and a legendary collection of quilts to boot. The Museum invited me and asked if I would write a review. Along the same lines as last year's Mary Schafer exhibit, I heartily believe that if you're:

1. Within a day's drive of charming Doylestown and
2. A quilter and/or
3. Interested in any kind of art

... you should make the effort to visit this exhibit of 30+ quilts before April 15!

"Pinwheel Flowers" -  maker unknown, circa 1860 in Bowling Green, Missouri. This was my favorite quilt! It was hard to capture its vibrancy via camera; like many of the others, it's best seen in person.

If you know of the legendary quilt historian Cuesta Benberry (1923-2007), you might know that she has a large collection of quilts. These quilts are owned by Michigan State University (MSU) and many of them travel around the country. This is a huge service to the quilt world and the world at large who may have yet to see quilts as more than blankets (which Benberry herself first believed before she visited her husband's family in KY, according to the interview at the exhibit).

Benberry's quest was twofold:
1. To showcase the diversity in African American quilts throughout history (i.e. they aren't all one specific style), and

2. To show that quilts, and specifically African American quilts, are worthy of scholarship and serious study.

"Friendship Quilt" - made by friends of Benberry (quiltmakers and historians), 1979.

I've become really interested in quilt history, so the exhibit was right up my alley. Part of the Mercer Museum's exhibit showcases the diversity of the quilt collection, including the only quilt Benberry ever made herself (which was a treat to discover; I'll leave that as a surprise to those visiting) as well as friendship quilts made in her honor.

"Black Family Series #1: The Family of 3" - Carolyn Mazloomi, 1996

Also included were quilts that depicted racial stereotypes (since Benberry believed in collecting all kinds of quilts) and quilts by the also-legendary Faith Ringgold, Carolyn Mazloomi, and Gee's Bend Quilters. The hand-quilting was especially a joy to see both up close and far away. It's definitely not something to miss.

"Memories of Trayvon [Martin]"- Cassandra Stancil Gunkel, 2017; "Barack Obama: 44th President of the United States" -  Rose Miller, 2017

The Friendly Quilters of Bucks County are also exhibiting quilts. What struck me most about these contemporary and art quilts was the passion conveyed for quilting and their guild. It's comforting and exciting to know that quilters all over the world discover fabric and quilty friends in the same ways that I have.

I hope you get a chance to go, if you're in the area! If not, try and catch the Cuesta Benberry Collection exhibit elsewhere. You'll be glad you did.

*Full disclosure: I received tickets to the Mercer Museum to provide this review. All opinions are my own. 


  1. It sounds like the collection is really thought provoking!

  2. Very interesting and educational. Some really beautiful quilts. Two great things: history and quilts.


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