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Center acquires major quilt history collection

The Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection, an outstanding collection of historically significant quits and quilt history research materials.

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The Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection, an outstanding collection of historically significant quits and quilt history research materials.

The collection contains examples of American quilting and several hundred written items, including manuscripts, rare textile books and catalogs, other visual materials and ephemera of 20th century quilting history.

“We are incredibly pleased that the Joyce Gross collection is now at the Center,” said Dr. Don Carleton, executive director of the Center. “The combination of exceptional quilts and extensive research collection make this collection a wonderful addition to our material culture holdings. It also adds to the Center’s growing reputation as an important center for the study of the quilt.”

The acquisition of the collection was made possible by support from the office of the university’s Executive Vice President and Provost Steven Leslie and by a gift from quilt experts Karey Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes.

“We are delighted that the Center for American History has acquired this extensive and irreplaceable body of information and will preserve it for future scholars,” said Bresenhan and O’Bryant Puentes. “The quilts in this collection, along with the materials that support them, constitute one of the most significant archives ever to document the largely female art of quilt making. As a window on the lives and activities of women during the 20th century, a time of turbulence and social change, the Joyce Gross Collection will offer researchers of the era a rich vein to mine.”

The acquisition includes more than 170 quilts by American quilters from the late 1930s to 2002, including Pine Hawkes Eisfeller’s “The Garden” (1938) and “Tree of Life” (1939). In 1999, both of Eisfeller’s works were judged to be two of the “100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century.” Other 20th century American quilters whose works are part of the Gross Collection include Bertha Stenge, Emma Andres, Florence Peto and Jeannette Throckmorton.

Brenda Gunn, the Center’s associate director for research and collections, noted, “Joyce’s collecting efforts focused on two fronts, the quilts themselves and documentation about quilts and quilters. The results place the Center alongside the more established quilt study centers in the country.”

“The Joyce Gross Collection is all about women’s work,” said Mary Evelynn Sorrell, assistant director for Winedale. “Joyce Gross herself is an icon, a great representative of the women who have said, even demanded, that quilts, quilt history and the most talented women who made quilts, were worth research. As a woman who decided to learn how to do proper historical research and documentation, she is teaching those of us in the next generation how to appreciate and study these examples of material culture from the broader perspective of American studies.”

“Early on, Joyce concentrated on quilters who were overlooked by the quilting establishment,” added Gunn. “Her foresight and focus makes this collection a must-see for quilt historians and scholars interested in women and gender studies, human ecology, textiles and design, as well as other disciplines.”

Beginning with her first purchase in 1973 of a quilt top for three dollars at a flea market, Gross amassed a historically important collection. As she collected quilts and became acquainted with quilters, Gross began to share her love of the art with the public by organizing quilting tours throughout the nation, hosting her celebrated annual quilting retreat in Point Bonita, Calif., and founding and publishing the Quilters’ Journal from 1977 to 1987. In 1980, Gross helped organize the influential American Quilt Study Group. Over the years, she established herself as a leading historian of 20th century quilts and quilters. In recognition of her many contributions to American quilting, Gross was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 1996. She is considered a “Quilt Treasure” by the Alliance for American Quilts.

Dr. Carleton announced the acquisition at the 2008 Winedale Spring Symposium. This year’s symposium, “Following the Threads: A Quilt History Sampler,” featured a number of quilt experts discussing the quilt as a topic of social history. As a Regional Center for the Quilt, Winedale partners with the Alliance for American Quilts (a national nonprofit organization) to document, preserve and share the American quilt heritage.