The studio quilt developed from a convergence of influences in the art and craft worlds of the 20th century. Textile historian Nancy Bavor points to the work of 20th-century artists and art movements such as Marcel Duchamp, the Surrealists, Abstract Expressionists, and Pop Artists and the work they did to blur the lines between high and low art as precursors to the studio quilt. The elevation of traditional quilts to art status in the Whitney exhibition Abstract Design in American Quilts and the subsequent commodification of quilts further broke down barriers between high and low art, art and craft.
Beginning with Ohio Patchwork ’76 and the first Quilt National in 1979 continuing through Perspectives: Art, Craft, Design and the Studio Quilt in 2009 and Revisiting the Art Quilt in 2011, artists have had the opportunity to show their work and curators and critics have refined their analysis of the quilt, particularly the studio quilt, as an art object.
Quilt National, a biennial art quilt show, laid the groundwork for other regular juried art quilt shows such as Artist as Quiltmaker and Quilt Visions. Studio quilt artists have also been accepted into museum collections as wide ranging as the Visions Art Museum and the Smithsonian.
As the studio quilt movement developed, so has the dialogue about the relationship of quilts to art and craft. In the 1970s, The Artist and the Quilt and Artist’s Quilts were two projects that brought artists and quiltmakers into collaboration with each other. In 1986, The Art Quilt, both exhibition and catalogue, curated by Penny McMorris and Michael Kile became the seminal work placing studio quilts into an historical context. Even today, their essay on the development of studio quilts and the ways in which artists transitioned from traditional art fields to quiltmaking by experimenting with processes, form, and materials is relevant. Sandra Sider and Michael James’ exhibit Perspectives in 2009 presented the range of studio quilts through a cohesive review of the field, with analysis based on artistic principles—materiality, form, process, and narrative.