Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

May 10, 2010

Textiles tell tales in newest exhibition opening May 29 at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

As silent witnesses to events of the past, milestones in human lives and artistic traditions, quilts and coverlets can tell fascinating stories of the men and women who produced the intricate and colorful bed coverings of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Material Witnesses: Quilts and Their Makers,” the newest exhibition at Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum opening Saturday, May 29, offers testimony about the people who created the textiles as it generates new questions that remain unanswered.

“Discovering these illusive stories in the quilts and coverlets is immensely gratifying,” said Kim Ivey, Colonial Williamsburg’s associate curator of textiles and historic interiors. “But the new questions arising from these discoveries are even more consuming.”

Ivey shared curatorial responsibilities for the exhibition with Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of textiles and costumes. “Fragile as they may be, these creations are similar to the old family Bible, filled with notations of significant dates and events,” she said.

As part of their documentation and design, coverlets and quilts often include written words — words that record the lives of the makers who signed the textiles, often proclaiming personal beliefs through patriotic or religious messages. Other textiles reveal their tales more quietly, their stories coaxed into daylight only through avid research of various records, including genealogies of the makers. Yet other stories are told through motifs of the textile creation itself, such as an appliquéd patriotic eagle, a woven rose sprig or the embroidered outline of the maker’s hand.

The “Material Witnesses: Quilts and Their Makers” exhibition is made possible by a gift from the Turner-Gilliland Family Fund of Menlo Park, Calif., and reflects Mary Gilliland’s interest in textiles. She and her husband, Clinton, have supported Colonial Williamsburg through restricted and unrestricted gifts since 1980.

The exhibition will be on view through May 2012 in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Gallery of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. A Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, Museum Ticket or Good Neighbor Pass is required.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281