Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories

At the MFA

By: - Sep 08, 2021

Quilts are a democratic art. They provide a window into the lives of the many people who have made and used textiles, across geographic, political, social and economic contexts. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories showcases 50 remarkable works created by women and men, known individuals and those yet to be identified, urban and rural makers, and members of the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and LGBTQIA+ communities.

The exhibition explores how the quilt, which is often seen today as a timeless, quintessentially “American” art form, has in fact continuously evolved, shaped by a broadly underrecognized diversity of artistic hands and minds. Dating from the 17th century to the present day, the masterpieces on view reveal a rich—and richly complicated—story of the nation’s shared history, contributing to the evolving conversation about what defines the American experience. 

Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories is on view at the MFA from October 10, 2021 through January 17, 2022 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview Days take place from October 6–10. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general Museum admission, are required for all visitors—members and nonmembers alike—and reservations can be made on starting September 2 for MFA members and September 9 for nonmembers.

An audio tour is available on MFA Mobile, a free downloadable app, and features commentary from Jennifer Swope, David and Roberta Logie Associate Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, as well as six artists whose works are featured in the exhibition.

The exhibition brings together for the very first time the only two extant quilts made by Harriet Powers (1837–1910), a formerly enslaved woman from Athens, Georgia. The MFA’s iconic Pictorial quilt (1895–98) is displayed alongside the Bible quilt (1885–86), on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—a historic union that sheds new light on Powers’ extraordinary artistic and storytelling talents. Fabric of a Nation also features several new MFA acquisitions by contemporary artists who are both building on the centuries-old tradition of quilt making and using the medium to investigate alternative narratives, aesthetics and politics.

These works, on view at the Museum for the first time and interspersed among the historical works in the exhibition, include pieces by Sanford Biggers (born 1970), Bisa Butler (born 1973), Carla Hemlock (Kanienkeha?ka [Mohawk], born 1961), Sylvia Hernandez (born 1961), Carolyn Mazloomi (born 1948), Tomie Nagano (born 1950), Rowland Ricketts (born 1971), Gio Swaby (born 1991) and Michael C. Thorpe (born 1993).