THEY came from small towns in Kansas. They came from large towns in California. And they say they would have come even farther if they'd had to. The Great American Quilt Festival was held in New York last week, and quilters from around the country were represented, both in person and in the form of quilts hanging along the partitions lining Pier 92's football-field-and-a-half-long brick walls. There were antique quilts, new quilts, Amish quilts, Lone Star, Log Cabin, and Hawaiian quilts, art quilts, crazy quilts, every kind of quilt.Skip to next paragraph
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``There have been many national quilt shows, but this is the largest in terms of NYC and the East Coast,'' says Robert Bishop, director of the Museum of American Folk Art, which sponsored the festival. ``And the attendance has been two to three times of any show ever done.
``Fourteen million people made quilts last year. There is a definite interest in the art form that East Coast people haven't been aware of,'' he adds.
The show was so well attended that you could hardly make your way through the aisles. Women with short gray hair and glasses and thin-lipped, square-jawed faces streamed by. Others were younger, in slacks. Many were wearing appliqu'ed vests. They made professional-sounding comments such as: ``Ah, a white on white!'' or ``Another example of shadow work!'' as they darted toward the quilts on display.
Along one side were the entries, one from each state, of a contest on the theme ``Liberty, Freedom, and the Heritage of America,'' sponsored by Scotchguard. The Statue of Liberty was featured in about a third of them, the Lady looking thoughtful, stern, sultry, or friendly, according to the fancy of the artist.
The prize-winning quilt, ``Glorious Lady Freedom,'' by Moneca Calvert of Carmichael, Calif., shows a very heroic and forceful Liberty emerging from a brilliantly colored flag, with gold and green farmland in the background. The colors are so strong and the lines have such energy that you feel that the whole picture is pulsing. ``It's like painting on cloth,'' said one woman.
Another outstanding quilt, ``Centennial'' by Judy D. Hopkins of Alaska, shows the Lady in the harbor in tiny triangles of celadon, beige, and rust on a dark blue background -- a witty use of classic quilting technique that still formed a recognizable picture.
Anita Murphy, a perky and friendly lady who did the entry from Texas, has been quilting since she was seven; ``I eat it and sleep it,'' she says. Her quilt not only shows the Statue of Liberty but also Ellis Island, in honor of her mother-in-law, who was born aboard a ship about to dock there. She is enthusiastic about the Quilt Festival: ``You're like a blind dog in a meat market; you don't know what to see and do next,'' she says with a laugh.
Mrs. Murphy, who worked 20 hours a day to finish her own exquisite handmade quilt, nonetheless emphasizes the pragmatic side of quilting. ``Machine piercing and machine quilting are coming into their own,'' she says, adding that in the annual Texas quilting show there is even a machine quilting division now. ``We've taken the theory away that if you don't do 10 stitches to the inch you aren't a quilter.''
Along with this trend, she says, pausing to autograph a photo of her quilt for some admirers from Kansas, people are keeping in mind the needs and laundry approach of the recipient, since most quilts are made as gifts. ``I have friends who don't think they're washing unless they throw in a cup of Clorox.''