During the 18th and 19th centuries, wounds weren’t the only things being stitched after battle. Some military men crafted quilts—and starting this fall, 29 of these wartime relics will go on display in New York as part of a new exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.
“War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts From Military Fabrics” opens on September 6, 2017, and runs through January 7, 2018. Organized in conjunction with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s International Quilt Study Center & Museum, it’s billed as the first exhibition in the U.S. to highlight quilts made by men during times of war.
“Men, who are not usually raised learning the sewing arts, show both design acumen and manual dexterity as they sewed pieces of military uniforms, blankets, and other bits of fabric into quilts of great beauty,” said Anne-Imelda Radice, the American Folk Art Museum’s executive director, in a press release. “These quilts offer an insight into military life and the need for creative expression even during times of war.”
Many of the quilts in “War and Pieced” are on loan from noted Australian quilt scholar Annette Gero, who co-curated the exhibit with Stacy C. Hollander, the museum’s chief curator. Others have been borrowed from private and public collections in the U.S.
According to Gero, "there are fewer than 100 of these quilts in the world, and no two are alike.” The ones that will go on display in September range from pictorial quilts made during the Austro-Turkish, Prussian, and Napoleonic wars to mosaic-like quilts stitched by the British soldiers, sailors, and regimental tailors who engaged in far-flung conflicts in South Africa and India.
Some quilts on display depict war themes, while others are decorated with scenes from folk tales, national symbols, or architectural monuments. Meanwhile, blankets with particularly elaborate designs may have been made for loved ones back home or upon a soldier’s return. Together, they reveal the seldom-told stories of men who used crafts to cope as they convalesced from injuries, were interned in prisoner-of-war camps, or struggled with boredom, loneliness, and a shifting geopolitical landscape.
You can view three such unique examples below, or visit the American Folk Art Museum in September to see the full display in person.