If Abstract Design in American Quilts had only made a big splash in New York, its impact would still have been great. But it was the further journeys the Jonathan Holstein/Gail van der Hoof quilts took that truly expanded the exhibition's legacy. By the time it closed in early October, 1971, a flurry of requests to borrow the quilts had already flooded in. There followed a half decade of almost non-stop travel for various iterations of the Whitney exhibition. With a collection numbering in the hundreds, Holstein and van der Hoof were able to supplement each version with new examples that demonstrated their original concept: that antique American pieced quilts could be aesthetically distinct, sophisticated, and seemingly ahead of their time.
The quilts traveled to major art museums around the U.S., but also to university art galleries and smaller art centers, where quilts were likely more familiar to visitors than they had been to many Manhattanites. They also went to a series of European capitals, where viewers were almost completely unfamiliar with American pieced quilts. Most distantly, the Holstein/van der Hoof quilts traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as a number of smaller Japanese cities, where the quilts were welcomed enthusiastically and with large attendance figures.
As the original 1971 exhibition faded into the past, its influence was not forgotten. In 1991, the Kentucky Quilt Project celebrated Abstract Design in American Quilts' 20 year anniversary with a series of exhibitions and events, including a reinstallation of the original Whitney quilts. In 2021, the International Quilt Museum once again put the Whitney quilts on gallery walls, and also reflected on the exhibition's 50-year legacy with a series of complementary exhibitions, a catalog, and this website, The 1971 Story.