Friday, August 28, 2015

"Happiness is..."

"Happiness is..." was a thing in the 1970s. I think the origin was "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.

All we had to do was fill in the blank. Happiness could be anything we wanted. For me, happiness was a big bowl of Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries and a Hanna-Barbera marathon.

Today, happiness is a vibrant, 1970s pictorial landscape quilt, part of my exhibition "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" now on display at the Benton County Museum.

The quilt is 68" x 90" and made of cottons. It has initials and a date inscribed in black embroidery, "With Love, JAM '77" and it is tied with black yarn. It came from collector Marjorie Childress of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who discovered it through Goodwill. I couldn't imagine giving away such a wonderful quilt, even if Goodwill is a good cause. The quilt is iconic. It captures the essence of the utopian, free-spirited 1970s.

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"I pledge allegiance to the flag..."

In 1971, I was in kindergarten at the Gould Elementary School in North Caldwell, New Jersey, and each school day began the same way. We all stood, right hands over our hearts, looking at the American Flag above the chalkboard, and we recited the Pledge of Allegiance in unison.

We learned about historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross. The significance of the American Flag was clear from the beginning. We were proud to be Americans and we looked forward to the Bicentennial in 1976.

American flag quilts are highly coveted objects in the world of antique quilts. This 13-star American Flag quilt was most likely made around 1976, so it is barely vintage; but I was still surprised nobody else really wanted it when it appeared on eBay a few years ago. There were a few bids, but the final price was only nine dollars. Shipping from Florida cost more than the quilt.

I guess that's how far off the radar 1970s quilts were when I first started collecting them. As time passes and 1970s quilts become more collectible, this quilt's stock will rise. It is machine pieced, hand appliquéd and hand quilted. It is 66" x 77" and is surrounded by a prairie point edge finish. It also includes bright red and blue colors-- not the exact same colors used in actual American flags, but they were popular at the time.

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

a visit to the museum

Yesterday I hopped in the car and headed over to the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon to see the completed installation of my "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" exhibition. Curator Mark Tolonen and I hung most of the quilts on Monday, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

Mark and the museum staff finished the installation the following day, and they did a superb job. I appreciated their attention to detail. The space was looking great when I got there.

I love this picture of the large tile block quilt from behind. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into a quilt exhibition, and it's all worth it!

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The New Vintage

crazy block quilt, Hawaii, c. 1970s
Two years ago, I wrote a guest blog for "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics" called The New Vintage. It was about collecting quilts made more recently than those typically sought by other collectors. My focus was my childhood years, the 1970s, and in the blog, I told the story about the first quilt in my 1970s collection.

"Back in November 2010, I found a flannel-backed, tied spread, crazy block pattern, full of hot colors and wild fabrics from the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. It was visually exciting, and way outside the box. It was the kind of thing you might find wadded up in a ball under a table at a tag sale, or used to wrap furniture when moving. But I felt it was better than that, much better. Would people laugh at me for thinking it was so great? Did I care?"

Starting with the vibrant, crazy block quilt in 2010, I quickly built a collection of more than 100 1970s quilts. Articles appeared in several magazines, and a research article on polyester quilts was recently published by the American Quilt Study Group in its quarterly newsletter, Blanket Statements.

Twenty quilts were exhibited at QuiltCon 2015 in Austin, Texas, and several others recently appeared in an exhibit at Modern Domestic PDX. Now, 22 quilts are on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon, part of the biennial Quilt County celebration. The exhibition runs through October 3rd.

QuiltCon 2015, Austin, Texas
My guest blog about The New Vintage pointed out characteristics of 1970s quilts, reasons why the quilts were relevant in today's world, and the closing comments briefly compared yesterday with today.

"Just like the quilts of other historical periods, quilts of the 1970s usually have a very specific look and feel. They are bold, bright, quirky, and made to be used. Not surprisingly, these quilts inform the work of the Modern quilters- a group that certainly embraces the new vintage. Back in the 1970s, the growing interest in quilts was very much a rediscovery of quiltmaking in America. Today, it’s more like a passing of the torch, and there’s something really great about that."

The biggest difference between the 1970s and today is the quilt industry. In the 1970s, there were no rotary cutters. Dress calicoes accounted for most of the scarce cotton fabrics available, but stores were stocked with polyester double knit. Only one publication, Quilters Newsletter, specialized in quilts. There was really no such thing as a "sewlebrity" in quilting.

Aesthetically, there are remarkable similarities between the quilts of the 1970s and today's Modern quilts. There are also significant differences. Comparing quilts juried in to QuiltCon 2015 with the vintage 1970s quilts on display in the same arena, there are similar tendencies in color and design, but not in materials and finishing. The quilts share the free-spirited use of color and sense of adventure, but the new quilts look a lot more polished.

Owls, c. 1970s, Ohio
The correlation between collecting and quiltmaking is intriguing. Do we collect things that inform what we make? The thought has crossed my mind. Owls are popular right now. They were also popular in the 1970s. Old quilts captured the imagination of American folk art collectors in the 1970s. Millions of people started making quilts around the same time. A select group of those quilts made their way to me.

Quilts of the 1970s caught my attention around the time The Modern Quilt Guild was gaining recognition among quilters. I'm sure it was no coincidence.

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. One of the quilts in the exhibition is the first one, that 1970s crazy block from Hawaii, subject of The New Vintage blog. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

installation pics

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon is on display now through October 3rd. Installation took place earlier in the week. Here are a few pictures taken while we were hanging the quilts.

All of these pictures were taken before we hoisted the quilts hanging from the ceiling. We got most of the exhibition hung in three hours. There were a few loose ends the following day, but the exhibition was ready to be viewed a couple days early, just like our 2011 exhibition of New York Beauty quilts in the same venue. It's fun to look back at those pictures and compare the two exhibitions.

2011 exhibition at Benton County Museum
on display now

Now Available

The catalogue for my exhibition at the Benton County Museum, "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now available through Blurb.


The modest little book is just 22 pages, brimming with remarkably vibrant quilts from a pivotal time. It was a fascinating period in American quilt history, but previously uncharted territory for quilt historians.

The book includes a brief introduction, photos and details about the quilts. It is available in softcover, hardcover, and electronically as a PDF.  I have done a few Blurb books with the 1970s quilts from my collection, but this is the very first one available for sale. To preview or purchase, click here

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" press release

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2015
Contact: Mark Tolonen, Curator of Exhibitions
Phone: 541.929.6230

Modern Materials: Quilts of the 1970s

Philomath, Ore. – The 2015 Quilt County exhibition at Benton County Museum, “Modern Materials: Quilts of the 1970s from The Volckening Collection”, has turned the gallery into a kaleidoscope of brilliant polyester fabrics, American themes and phenomenon.  The exhibition is open through October 3, 2015.

The enthusiastic revival of quilting experienced across the United States during the 1970s created a colorful cultural snapshot of American life. The “Modern Materials” quilt exhibition is a space for visitors to immerse themselves in that era.  

Naturally, the American Bicentennial theme is well represented. Healthy doses of both Kesey-esque neon colors, and the infamous avocado green and harvest gold palate make their appearances in the polyester fabrics. One quilt from Hawaii is made from scraps left over from the production of Hawaiian shirts made for export.

"Klee" 1973 by Marsha Mccluskey of Eugene, Oregon

A 1973 quilted wall hanging by Eugene artist Marsha McCloskey is a response to Paul Klee’s 1928 oil painting “Castle and Sun”. Bill Volckening's blog for the Kentucky Quilt Project states that McCloskey’s artistry “…cleverly asks the question, 'are quilts art?'"

Portland collector Bill Volckening is an award-winning author and photographer and lover of all things quilt-related. Quilts from The Volckening Collection have been exhibited from New York to Tokyo, and appeared in various publications worldwide. His new book “New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection” published by Quiltmania in France (2015) references his 2011 quilt exhibition at Benton County Museum.

During the month of September, Benton County, Oregon becomes Quilt County, presenting simultaneous quilt exhibitions in venues throughout Corvallis and Philomath.  A complete map and listing of events is available at

Enjoy a visit to Oregon’s past AND present!  The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 – 4:30. Admission is always free!   

Located six miles west of Corvallis on Hwy 20/34, at 1101 Main Street, Philomath, Oregon, the Benton County Historical Society operates the Museum facilities for the preservation of history and culture.  Its goal is to preserve the material culture of Benton County, Oregon.  It strives to enrich people’s lives through interesting exhibitions and educational programs.

Please call (541) 929-6230 or visit for more information.