Private quilt collection on view at MFA

May 2, 2014
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A new exhibition of 58 hand-made quilts at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is the first to explore how, over five decades, artist and designer Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim acquired bold and colorful quilts that echo the work of mid-20th century Abstract and Op Art movement artists. The collection is on view through July 27.

The exhibition not only looks at the quilts themselves, but also examines how color theory relates to their woman-created designs.

Pilgrim and Roy began collecting in California, and their collection, one of the largest in the world, numbers more than 1,200 examples from across the United States. Many were created by anonymous women from diverse communities stretching from 19th century Massachusetts and Amish and Mennonite Pennsylvania to Depression-era Missouri. Quilting gave them a voice in a time when there were few opportunities for women to express themselves artistically.

“As we began looking at what we had collected in comparison to others, we noticed our collection was different in that our interests were neither historical, nor technical,” Roy said in a press release. “We collected what we found to be visually exceptional and challenging, and always kept an eye toward color theory.”

“If you put paint in those women’s hands it would have been intimidating …Art happens whether you like it or not,” Roy is quoted as saying on the MFA’s Instagram feed.

“Quilt-making gave voices to generations of women who otherwise never would have been heard,” Roy said in that release.

At the entrance to the exhibition, museum visitors receive a color wheel to assist in experiencing the exhibition’s color theory themes, such as vibration, gradation and contrast. Each section of the exhibition is introduced by an abstract work of art to emphasize the themes.

“This exhibition is not only an exploration of quilts, but also a look at the history and development of one of America’s finest collections,” MFA Director Malcolm Rogers said in that release.

A quilt with a “field of diamonds” pattern, made in America around 1860, from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection. (Photo Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

A quilt with a “field of diamonds” pattern, made in America around 1860, from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection. (Photo Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

A “double wedding ring quilt” made in Missouri around 1940, from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection. (Photo Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

A “double wedding ring quilt” made in Missouri around 1940, from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection. (Photo Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

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