Quilt of the Month


September 2004

September 2004

Sawtooth
Possibly made in Massachusetts
Circa 1900
89.5" x 76"
IQSC 2003.003.0024
The Jonathan Holstein Collection, including the 1971 Whitney Museum Exhibition Quilts

"Sawtooth" was featured in the 1971 exhibition "Abstract Design in American Quilts" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, curated by Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof. By presenting quilts on the walls of a prestigious art museum and by comparing their graphic and painterly qualities to those found in modern abstract art, the exhibition brought quilts to the attention of an audience that had never before considered them in such a context.

Holstein's recollections of this quilt, as printed in the book "Abstract Design in American Quilts: A Biography of an Exhibition," exemplify his astute, and sometimes quite humorous, observations about the quilts in the Whitney exhibition: "This was the first quilt of this pattern I remember seeing. Shock and disbelief. Who would make such a thing to cover a bed? Who would make such a thing to sleep under? Where were the traditional comforting and soothing qualities quilt literature always emphasized? You retreat at the end of the day to the security and sanctity of your sleeping chamber to discover - what? - on your bed. This visually disturbing, menacing piece of work? It looked like a giant and ingenious bear trap and made me want to know a good deal more" (Louisville: The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc., 1991, p. 168).