Also Showing in NYC

Although it made a big splash in 1971, earlier New York exhibitions had already laid groundwork for the success of the Whitney Museum of American Art's Abstract Design in American Quilts. These exhibitions included:

  • The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art (1961), which consisted of galleries filled with all sorts of objects, including textile work, assembled together in a collage aesthetic. 
  • Fabric Collage at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (1965), which included contemporary hangings, antique American quilts, and molas (reverse appliqué) from the San Blas islands of Panama.
  • Wall Hangings at the Museum of Modern Art (1969), which presented genre-defying woven works in the museum’s first-floor special exhibition galleries.

Another event may have made the Whitney's reaction to the proposed Abstract Design in American Quilts particularly warm. In early 1971, just prior to Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof offering a quilt exhibition to the Whitney, the museum's exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America 1969-1971, organized by a white curator, had resulted in a media firestorm. The museum was criticized for not involving Black art experts, and 15 of the 75 artists withdrew their works and put them on display elsewhere. It seems likely that in the spring of 1971, the Whitney was looking for an exhibition that would draw more positive reactions from art critics and the press. Their next big exhibition, Abstract Design in American Quilts, with its combination of appeals to both textile traditions and modern art, certainly helped in that effort.

After the success of Abstract Design in American Quilts, textile and quilt-focused exhibitions became more common in New York. The 1970s saw a range of exhibitions, including:

  • The first major gallery display of Amish quilts at the Schoelkopf Gallery (1973).
  • Sewn, Stitched & Stuffed at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (1973), which featured post-1969 work by artists such as Lenore Davis and Joan Lintault, both of whom became known in the early 1970s for their studio quilts.
  • The New American Quilt at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (1976), the first exhibition in a major museum to show contemporary, non-traditional quilts exclusively and which included pieces by Radka Donnell and Joan Lintault.