Working in a history museum setting it is inevitable that a quilt exhibit will present itself. The first day I worked at the Dallas Historical Society I was called into the interim director’s office and told that I needed to quickly put together a quilt display to open in one month. She felt it would be quick, cheap and require little work. Needless to say, the interim director was not a museum person. Any exhibition – large or small – requires an equal amount of effort, care, and preparation. Fortunately that exhibition calendar quickly fell to the wayside and the misguided quilt display project never happened.
Fast forward several years to the Colorado History Museum. There I had the pleasure to work with the new Assistant Curator of Decorative and Fine Arts, Alisa Zahler, in organizing Quiltspeak: Stories in the Stitches. It was my third project as the Director of Design & Production. I had previously held Alisa’s position for a year and a half.
Alisa selected an encyclopedic array of historic and contemporary quilts, all produced in Colorado. About a third of the show was drawn from the Society’s collections and the rest were lent by artists from around the state. The interpretation for the show focused on the lives the quilters and the stories behind the making of the individual quilts. To unify the complex patterns and many colors of the quilts I painted the galleries and platforms a rich saturated red. The interpretive signage was placed to not detract from the exuberant quilts.
The gallery for the show consisted of two rectangular rooms separated by a masonry wall with two archways. Utilizing several temporary wall and a series of wide low platforms I created a series of long diagonal vistas through the space, hiding the dividing wall. And while all the quilts were displayed behind plexiglass panels or suspended above the wide platform barriers, an interactive area was created utilizing a quilting frame and chairs where visitors could sit and contentedly stitch. There was also a front porch vignette furnished with rocking chairs and embroidery hoops containing quilt squares to work. In conjunction with the education staff I also incorporated a number of interactive work stations and discovery drawers to expand the interpretive content of the show.