Fascinated by design elements of color, pattern, line, and construction, and eager to recover a quintessentially “American” form of material culture, Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960) was one of the first to exhibit quilts as works of art in a museum setting. Mrs. Webb established the nucleus of Shelburne’s collection with over 400 historic bedcoverings in the 1950s. Today, Shelburne is known internationally for the exceptional variety and quality of its collection, which is particularly strong in its holdings from 19th-century Vermont and New England.
Throughout the history of quilt-making, the finest pieces were often made to be admired rather than used. Brought out on special occasions, highly prized bedcovers linked family and community histories, bridging the gap between domestic life and public display. Young women often created quilts as part of their dowries, and quilts were gifted as expressions of friendship, devotion, or charity. By the middle of the 19th century, adept quilt-makers competed for prizes and local renown at state and county fairs. Today, quilt-making is recognized as an art form in its own right, revealing makers’ skills and personal visions from complex geometric designs that would feel at home in a gallery of Pop Art to delicate patterns drawn from nature. Bringing together twenty masterpieces dating from the first decades of the 1800s to the turn of the 21st century, Pattern & Purpose explores objects that expand our sense of what art can be, and recognize how invention and discovery can be found in the most familiar of places.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by The Donna and Marvin Schwartz Foundation.