Between 1972-1975, Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof sent iterations of Abstract Design in American Quilts to museums around the U.S. and to Europe. The quilts’ most distant trip, however, was to Japan in 1975-1976.
In November 1974, Holstein and van der Hoof received two different requests from Japanese institutions to borrow Abstract Design in American Quilts. One was from the Shiseido Cosmetics company, which wanted a blockbuster exhibition to inaugurate the gallery space in their newly rebuilt flagship store in Tokyo’s toniest district, Ginza. The other request was from the Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (MoMAK), one of Japan’s four national modern art museums, which was hoping to obtain an exhibition of American folk art to coincide with the U.S. Bicentennial. The stature of these two institutions is evidence of the attention the Holstein/van der Hoof collection had garnered since 1971, not just in the U.S. but globally. Shiseido's American Pieced Quilts was on view from March 2 to 11, 1974. MoMAK's American Quilts opened on July 4, 1976 and delighted audiences in Japan's ancient capital for another month (the quilts toured a handful of smaller cities around Japan prior to arriving in Kyoto).
The quilts’ journey to Japan was a resounding success. The Director of the American Center in Kyoto, a co-sponsor of the MoMAK exhibition, reported that “the show was a smash hit everywhere it went” and that MoMAK’s attendance figure of 16,000 was 50% higher than normal. Additionally, the museum’s two catalog printings both sold out, the exhibition was written up in major newspapers and art journals, and NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting company, covered its opening event.
Thousands of Japanese people saw the exhibition and were exposed to the publicity surrounding it. Shortly thereafter, a quiltmaking boom hit Japan, a phenomenon for which Abstract Design in American Quilts is at least partly responsible.