Friday, March 11, 2011

A Visit to the Amish Country

Every now and then I get the opportunity to visit a museum with an exhibit that not only expands my design sensibilities but rivals my level of understanding. Who could have thought the Amish quilts from the 1920's could pack such a punch? I mean WOW.

Saturated color in combinations that make you just  want to roll in them, these quilts are breaking the barrier of our cultural understanding. Amish farm wives and daughters and "women-folk" in the Depression Era hand stitched these incredible works of art using fabrics passed down from generations that were worn as clothing first. The fabrics were then given an artistic rebirth in the form of a quilt. 

Not just color - AMAZING color. Color that makes me giddy.

The quilts are part of the ESPRIT collection and were housed in the corporate offices in San Francisco in the 1970's. ESPRIT clothing, as well as their branding and marketing designs were based on a simple grid system. Mondrian in effect, the clothing was vibrant and color infused. These quilts hung in the ESPRIT offices as design inspiration and an ode to the dynamic  power of simple graphics. And to think they were made in little old Lancaster County on Amish farms in PA. 

And here is where the paradigm shift comes in.  We think of the Amish as a backward, quiet community that doesn't use electricity or drive cars.  They farm the land with horse drawn equipment, make their own clothes and don't have phones. An oddity in the iPad, iPhone gotten get in done world that we live in. 

We think of "Witness" and the Amish in a preconceived notion. We don't see the depth of color present in the human spirit. We don't cognitively give in to that fact that the people that made this art - these quilts - felt intense emotions, the strength of their convictions and beliefs as we do.

 If color is any indication of the human condition, it is worn like a banner in the confines of this museum.

If you have the opportunity to go to this wonderful exhibit in the center of the city of Lancaster, PA, take some time and take it in.  The quality in each piece is uncompromising. The stitch work - all by hand - precise, exacting and tedious. The color squares visually vibrate...imagine the hours of work that went into a single quilt.

Amazing what we mere mortals can do, can create - right smack in the heart of a Depression. 
Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum
Lancaster, PA 17603
(717) 397-2970

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