Introductionby Patricia Cox Crews
Amish quilts, in general, and Amish crib quilts, in particular, represent a unique tradition within the broader context of American arts and crafts. Amish quilts in crib and youth-bed sizes are not made with the frequency that full-sized Amish quilts are made, despite the relatively large families common within Amish society. Collectors, dealers, scholars, and quilt aficionados appreciate Amish quilts for their visual qualities and exceptionally fine needlework, but some collectors especially prize the so-called crib quilts made by Amish women because of their rarity and special status. Therefore, I was intrigued when a collection of 90 Amish crib quilts was offered to the International Quilt Study Center (IQSC) by Xenia Cord, owner of an antique quilts brokerage in Kokomo, Indiana. The collection had been assembled by Sara Miller from Kalona, Iowa, a woman who had spent much of her life as a member of the Old Order Amish church.
Our surprise at being offered such a unique collection prompted us to engage Darwin Bearley to survey and evaluate the Miller Collection. Bearley, an antique quilt dealer located in Akron, Ohio, owns a personal collection of Amish crib quilts numbering about 50. He expressed surprise that he had never heard of the Amish woman who assembled such a large collection of crib quilts. After viewing the collection, he stated that he believed all were authentic and that the quality in general was "extremely high." He felt that a number of the crib quilts were "very unusual and unique ones." With the Sara Miller Collection of Amish crib quilts vetted, Robert and Ardis James generously decided to acquire the remarkable collection on behalf of the IQSC in September, 2000, preserving it for future generations to study and enjoy.
The Miller Collection consists of 90 Amish crib quilts, dating from the early 1900s to the 1960s. With single-minded purpose and a discerning eye, Sara Miller assembled this extraordinary collection. She occupies a unique position among collectors of Amish quilts. She is one of the few insiders (possibly the only insider) who has amassed a collection of Amish quilts, and the only collector affiliated with the Amish who has assembled a collection of crib quilts, so far as we can tell.
Soon after we acquired the Miller Collection, IQSC Curator Carolyn Ducey and I began to explore possible venues for an exhibition on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Since most of the Miller quilts were believed to have a Midwestern provenance, we decided to approach Reese Summers, Curator of the Great Plains Art Collection. He responded with enthusiasm and a willingness to devote one part of the new Christlieb Gallery for an entire year to the proposed exhibition. As planning progressed for the future exhibition, we determined that it would not be possible to display all 90 quilts at one time in the Great Plains Art Collection Christlieb Gallery. At the same time, it was the firm belief of Reese Summers that the exhibition would have greater appeal to audiences if all 90 quilts were displayed. Therefore, we decided to display 22 to 23 quilts at a time, with a new group every three months, so that visitors could see the entire collection by returning to view each of the four rotations between February 2003 and February 2004.
Fortuitously, about the time that preliminary planning began for the future exhibition of the Miller Collection, a new graduate student, Janneken Smucker, entered the University of Nebraska's masters program in textile history with a quilt studies emphasis. She expressed an interest in undertaking the curatorial research for the exhibition as her masters project. Researching the Miller Collection and serving as exhibition curator matched Janneken's background, education, and interests: Janneken Smucker is of Mennonite background and is a graduate in history and women's studies from Goshen (Indiana) College, a small Mennonite liberal arts college. Not only is she descended from a line of quiltmakers, she is a quiltmaker herself. Her educational and religious background (both the Amish and the Mennonites are Germanic sectarian religious groups) provided her with special insights into the Amish culture, thereby enriching her research of the collection and informing her thoughtful essay in this volume.
Another fortuitous circumstance, which further contributed to the scholarship of this project, was Dr. Linda Welters' application for an IQSC Visiting Faculty Fellowship. Dr. Welters is Professor of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design at the University of Rhode Island. She proposed to apply symmetry analysis to the Sara Miller Collection of Amish crib quilts. Symmetry analysis can be applied to repeating patterns found in nature and human artifacts.
The model for symmetry analysis that Welters proposed to use was set forth by Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe in Symmetries of Culture: Theory and Practice of Plane Pattern Analysis. They demonstrate how preferences for particular symmetry patterns offer clues to cultural beliefs and practices, including aspects of group identity and cultural contact. Welters argued persuasively that quilts with their repeating block patterns were well suited to meaningful symmetry analysis. She further noted that, "Connecting quilts to cultural patterns requires a substantial number of quilts from a culture or region. The 90 Amish crib quilts in the Sara Miler Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offer such an opportunity." The Fellows of the International Quilt Study Center voted unanimously to award her the Visiting Faculty Fellowship for 2002-2003. Her intriguing essay for this volume is the product of her research at the IQSC.
Carolyn Ducey and I anticipated that the exhibition would be of interest to other museums, and, indeed, that proved to be the case. Merle and Phyllis Good, owners of Good Books and directors/curators of The People's Place Quilt Museum in Intercourse, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, visited the IQSC during Sep-tember, 2002, to explore the possibility of future exhibitions and publications in partnership with the IQSC. After learning more about the planned exhibition of the Miller Collection, they immediately expressed an interest in serving as a venue for the Midwestern Amish crib quilt exhibition and in publishing the accompanying book. The timing of their initial visit could not have been better. We are very pleased that in March, 2003, the first of two rotations of this exhibition will travel to The People's Place Quilt Museum, a museum devoted to the exhibition of antique Amish and Mennonite quilts. Located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, The People's Place Quilt Museum promises to bring the Sara Miller Collection to the attention of appreciative visitors and residents of the oldest existing Amish settlement in the United States.