Folk art objects have long been valued as crafted, frequently functional items whose makers were intentional in selection of pattern, color, material, and visual impact. For many traditional craftspeople this intentionality has been understood rather than formally documented—other than to pass the tradition along to the next generation. Folk art is deeply rooted in a time, place, and visual vocabulary of a community.
Because the cultural elite rarely paid attention to it in the past, folk art has not always been recognized as art in the same sense that painting or sculpture is regarded by the established art world. Even so, folk art has gone through waves of mainstream art-world adulation, particularly in the twentieth century. In the 1960s and ‘70s it was seen as possessing remarkable similarities to some of the predominant art modes of the day: Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop Art. Although quilts such as those displayed in Abstract Design in American Quilts pre-date the mid-twentieth century art movements, they are evocative of, and visually similar to them, with hard edges, color saturation, optical illusions, repetition and graphic simplicity as key components.