In “The Amish Quilt Craze: Art, Business, and Authenticity,” Dr. Janneken Smucker takes the listener on a journey from the quiet of Amish country homes where plain folk practiced a tradition of quilt making with geometric patterns and bold colors, to the bustle of New York’s art scene where collectors and dealers built a market for Amish quilts, exploiting the perceived authenticity of Amish culture, and making a tidy profit for themselves in the process.
Spurning simple dichotomies, Dr. Smucker demonstrates that Amish quilts in twentieth century America were both folk- and high art; what began as a folk art tradition, through a process of artistic “discovery” and commercial adoption, became a hot item in the high art marketplace. The paradox of these objects which have an abstract, modern appearance, but which also embody a tangible connection with the past is explained in part by twentieth-century Americans’ quest for authenticity in the exotic or primitive, a quest which stimulated the cultural transfer of traditional forms into urban modernity.
Dr. Janneken Smucker is Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University. Quilting is more than a simple research subject for Dr. Smucker, it is a personal hobby and a family tradition, and her multidimensional connections to the subject illuminate her scholarship. Her book, “Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon,” was published in 2013 by Johns Hopkins University Press. For more information on Dr. Smucker and her work, please visit her website.
This talk was delivered the evening of September 18, 2014 as part of the Hagley Center’s Author Talk series.
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