Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000

Unconventional and Unexpected book cover

About the Author

Apart from writing this book under review Roderick Kiracofe is also the co-author of The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort: 1750-1950 (co-written with Mary Elizabeth Johnson) and Cloth & Comfort: Pieces of Women’s Lives From Their Quilts and Diaries. He was raised in a small town in Indiana and was, from an early age, drawn to art in many forms. He states, in his biography on Amazon, “Objects, architecture, style, design and art fascinate me.”


He indicates how he was always drawn to an examination of times that came before him through photographs and other artistic objects. Quilts easily fit into this realm of his passion. Through years of exploring old quilts and stories he clearly found something worth sharing which is apparent in this particular book.


Another aspect of his journey takes place in Oakland California. He states, on his biography, that in the 1990s: “I was presented with a unique and challenging opportunity with a group of buildings in downtown Oakland. Creating attractive living and work spaces for artists was a natural instinct.” This became Oakland Art Murmur which is a very powerful art center.

Who is This Book Aimed at?

I see this book as a work that is aimed at many people, not just people interested in quilts, or quilters. It is a book that, while showing quilts, also provides the reader with amazing color/art inspiration. It speaks of history that just so happens to include quilts. For example, in one of the essays, of which this book is comprised, the author Janneken Smucker (“Unconventional Wisdom: the Myths and Quilts That Came Before”) states “We do know that the growing consumer culture of the early twentieth century reached even isolated communities, particularly through mail order.” Such tidbits of information help the reader see history in a more broad view, not just a view related to quilts.


In relationship to people interested in quilts, or people who are quilters, this book is a wealth of information and inspiration. There are so many quilts which illustrate really unique combinations of patterns and fabrics that are sure to inspire. They are also works that can inspire any artist in any medium as well, which is truly a part of the magic contained in this book.

Content


The content of this book is made up of many essays by various individuals. Below is the Table of Contents to give you a look at different topics contained within.

Never Seen a Blanket by Natalie Chanin

In Dialogue with an Anonymous Quilter by Amelia Peck

A Texas Quiltmaker’s Life: An Interview with Sherry Ann Byrd by Roderick Kiracofe & Sherry Ann Byrd

Unconventional Wisdon: The Myths and Quilts That Came Before by Janneken Smucker

A Brief History of Quilts in Contemporary Art by Elissa Auther

From Under the Bedcovers: A Culture Curator’s Perspective by Ulysses Grant Dietz

Quilts are Quilts by Allison Smith

The Joyous Anarchy of Color and Pattern by Kaffee Fassett

The Beauty of Making Do by Denyse Schmidt

This Picture Is Not a Family Heirloom by Abner Nolan

Photography

I cannot really say enough about the pictures in this book. They are large and so intricate, providing the reader with a larger look at whole quilts and then close-ups that reveal textures and stitching. Below I am offering up just a few of the pictures in this book that will give you an idea. These images come from Amazon and from a Red Pepper Quilts book review as I was not going to try to scan this book and ruin it!

Pieced Backing c. 1940-1860 found in Texas and quilted with string.

Pieced Backing c. 1940-1860 found in Texas and quilted with string.
Pieced Backing

String “X” c. 1950-1975 attributed to Maggie Townsend quilted with black string

String “X” c. 1950-1975 attributed to Maggie Townsend quilted with black string
String “X”

Unknown Pattern (left) 1975-2000 attributed to Sally Owens-Corner Chimney Log Cabin (right) c.1960-1980

Unknown Pattern (left) 1975-2000 attributed to Sally Owens-Corner Chimney Log Cabin (right) c.1960-1980
Unknown (left) and Corner Chimney Log Cabin (right)

Double Wedding Ring, variation c. 1930-1950 found in Texas

Double Wedding Ring, variation c. 1930-1950 found in Texas
Double Wedding Ring, variation

Unknown Pattern c. 1950-1975 found in Georgia

Pattern c. 1950-1975 found in Georgia
Unknown Pattern

Wheel of Fortune c. 1950-1980 found in Missouri

Wheel of Fortune c. 1950-1980 found in Missouri
Wheel of Fortune

“Cross”/ Four Patch c. 1950-1975 Found in Pennsylvania

"Cross"/ Four Patch c. 1950-1975 Found in Pennsylvania
“Cross”/ Four Patch

What Makes This Book Special?

To be honest there are so many things that make this book special. I am sure it will be awhile before I am able to thoroughly digest this book (over and over) because there is so much to see and learn. As mentioned it is a book that offers anyone in any artistic pursuit something of value. There is the odd combination of many fabrics and colors that are so inspirational. The graphic art nature of these quilts is amazing and thus very special. In addition, this book is of such beautiful quality in terms of gloss and weight of each and every page. It is truly a book to be kept out on the table to touch and peruse!

Anything Wrong With This Book?

Not that I can see!!

Conclusion

Honestly I have never been a fan of chaotic, so to speak, quilts. Quilts with a sense of the disjointed have never interested me. However this book gave me a very new and deep perspective into such quilts and really nurtured a love of all that this book contains! The essays really take the readers down various paths and illuminate so many different perspectives of these quilts, art, and people. It is a book well worth the purchase and read!

Get your own copy now!

In the meantime do read other Quilty Pleasures columns such as this one: What Is An Art Quilt?


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