The Esprit Quilt Collection

The Esprit clothing company, founded in San Francisco in the early 1970s, became home to a significant collection of Amish quilts after its co-founder, Doug Tompkins, visited the landmark 1971 exhibit, Abstract Design in American Quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tompkins was smitten, and he bought his first quilt that year—a non-Amish red and white baskets quilt. His next two quilts purchases were Amish: a Center Diamond and Sunshine and Shadow, both from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Soon he showed up on his motorcycle at Mary Strickler’s Quilt, Julie Silber and Linda Reuther’s Bay area quilt shop, which was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Doug and Julie, who eventually worked as the curator of Esprit’s growing quilt collection.

By the late 1970s quilts filled the walls of Esprit’s headquarters, which it opened to visitors to take self-guided tours. Before long, Tompkins began limiting his collecting exclusively to Amish quilts, favoring the strong graphics and simplicity of the Lancaster County community. With these great pieces of design all around them, Esprit’s designers no doubt drew inspiration from the quilts, not solely in their designs but in their workmanship.