Preservers & Disseminators

The abundance of quilt-related activity in the 1970swhether among museums, artists, quiltmakers, dealers, or collectorsmeant that people started paying greater attention to how to preserve the legacy of American quilts, both antique and contemporary.

To prevent quiltmakers from being made anonymous, a phenomenon some critics perceived in Abstract Design in American Quilts, women began grassroots quilt documentation projects in most U.S. states, creating photographic and documentary records of quilts and their makers. The first in this movement, and the model for the majority of those that have followed, is the Kentucky Quilt Project begun in 1981. Four years later, the Nebraska Quilt Project began collecting data on what would eventually number nearly 5,000 quilts from across the state, an effort that resulted in the volume Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers as well as various exhibitions. As a whole, grassroots projects have documented approximately 200,000 quilts in private and institutional collections in the United States. Today, much of that data is made available via Michigan State University's Quilt Index

People’s overwhelming interest in all genres of quiltmaking in the 1970s also led to the formation of a number of organizations, museums, and conferences with missions to promote quiltmaking. Houston’s International Quilt Festival, the largest annual quilt show in the U.S., debuted in 1975 with traditional and contemporary quilt exhibitions, retail sales, and classes. In 1977, the American Museum of Quilts and Related Arts (today the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles), the first museum dedicated to quilts, opened in San Jose, CA.* 1979 marked the first Quilt National exhibition, a juried show that is recognized as one of the most significant venues for quilt artists to display new work. And in 1980, the American Quilt Study Group, a membership organization devoted to interdisciplinary quilt study, was founded and published its first volume of research papers, something it has done annually since then. 

*In the decades since the 1970s, a number of quilt-focused museums have been founded, including: New England Quilt Museum, 1987; Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, 1990; Museum of the American Quilters Society (now National Quilt Museum), 1991; Virginia Quilt Museum, 1995; La Conner Quilt Museum (today’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum), 1997; International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1997 (now International Quilt Museum); Texas Quilt Museum, 2010; Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts, 2011; and Iowa Quilt Museum, 2016.