Do you ever look at old family photographs and a hundred questions burst into your head?
Who is that person next to Uncle Roland? Where did those beautiful draperies end up? Why did mother wear those giant bellbottoms? Who inherited that dining room set? And who made that patchwork quilt on the bed, and where is it now?
“Posing with Patchwork: Quilts in Photographs, 1855-1955” presents a group of antique and vintage photographs in which quilts are part of the scene. The quilts in these photographs are one element in a larger, human story; maybe it’s a story about family relationships, about remembering, about identity, about community. Sometimes we can pull the stories from the shadows by looking for clues: inscriptions on the photograph itself, elements of costume and fashion, or the way in which the quilt is used as a prop—from acting as a decorative backdrop to blanketing a deceased loved one.
These photographs range in age from the early years when photography was a complicated and specialized process for professionals, to the days when most families owned an easy-to-use camera. But in all of them the photographer and the subjects chose to include a quilt—a decision that enhances our understanding of the image and illustrates the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
The photographs in this exhibition come from the collection of Janet Finley. Throughout childhood and as an adult, Finley has always pursued photography as a serious hobby. Her collection of photographs including quilts began when, as Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum (2000-2004), an intern showed her photographs of 1930s quiltmakers. Finley was immediately intrigued. The people in the photographs seemed to say to her, “Look at me and understand that I was a person in this time and place.” Her collection now numbers nearly 1,000 images, many of which are featured in her recent publication, Quilts in Everyday Life, 1855-1955: A 100-Year Photographic History.