In 1971:

  • The U.S. Congress passed the 26th amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18
  • NASA's Mariner 9 became the first artificial satellite of Mars
  • The New York Times began to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers, which revealed the U.S. government had been lying about the extent of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam
  • The U.S. table tennis team visited China in what came to be known as "ping pong diplomacy," paving the way for President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to the Communist nation and easing tense relations between the two countries
  • National Public Radio broadcast for the first time
  • Led Zeppelin released their fourth album, which included the classic hit, "Stairway to Heaven"

1971 was also a big year for quilts, textiles, and folk art. It was the year in which the Whitney Museum of American Art produced the exhibition, Abstract Design in American Quilts. For the first time, a major New York modern art museum displayed antique American quilts in galleries that ordinarily showcased work by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Kenneth Noland. For this dramatic entry of folk art into the fine art world to happen, someone had to first assemble a top-notch collection of quilts, then convince the Whitney to exhibit them. It was a pivotal moment that had been helped along by earlier New York museum exhibitions of craft- and fiber-related arts, and it added significantly to the momentum toward taking textile art seriously. And like any good paradigm shift, it caused controversy and tough conversations. In other words, after the Whitney exhibition, American quilts, those emblems of tradition, frugality, and domesticity, were not the same.