Abstract Design in American Quilts made an impression not only on New York audiences, but on museum goers around the country, including traditional quiltmakers themselves. The quilts traveled via the Smithsonian Intitution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) to places like the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art, the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, and the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas. When quiltmakers saw quilts on the walls of art museums, instead of in their homes or in the halls of local or state agricultural fairs, they glimpsed a new space into which they could venture. And venture they did.
One example of the movement of quiltmakers into a merged fine art/folk art space occurred far from the nation’s cultural centers on the coasts. Mary Ghormley of Lincoln, Nebraska had been a quiltmaker and antique quilt collector since the mid-1960s. She began holding quilt classes in her home in the early 1970s and with three other women organized the Lincoln Quilters Guild (LQG) in March 1973. In July 1973, Ghormley went to see the Holstein/van der Hoof quilts at the University of Iowa Museum of Art in Iowa City. Inspired by seeing quilts hung in an academic art museum, Ghormley and the LQG convinced the Sheldon Art Gallery (now the Sheldon Museum of Art) at the University of Nebraska to host a quilt exhibition. The Sheldon vetted nearly 300 quilts for the exhibition, all from Nebraska museums or individual owners and makers. Those included, made in the 1840s through the 1970s, “. . . were selected solely on their merits as works of art.” In the Fall of 1974, the exhibition, Quilts from Nebraska Collections, set a new attendance record for the Gallery.
As new audiences around the country were exposed to quilts, quiltmakers continued to make quilts as they always had done. But the atmosphere had changed: there were many new quiltmakers, there were new spaces in which to exhibit quilts, and there was a new national understanding of quilts as valuable forms of American material culture. Abstract Design in American Quilts, among other phenomena, helped to significantly raise the profile of quilts across the country.