While quilts began as elite objects in medieval Europe, the development of textile industry and trade over the centuries meant that this craft grew to enjoy widespread popularity. The infinite geometric and figurative combinations possible in a dizzying array of colours provided an outlet for the expression of creative energy, technical skill, housewifely thrift, and warm practicality. Today, quilting is a popular leisure pastime, with myriad shops, publications, guilds, and machinery dedicated to it.
In 2006, The University of Alberta’s Human Ecology Clothing and Textile Collection received a donation of 677 antique quilts from retired Toronto dealer Gloria Rosenberg. Spanning over 100 years, from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, these quilts were collected from 1958-1990. Purchased from estates in Canada and the United States, the collection contains outstanding examples of quilting traditions, techniques, and materials, ranging from Amish and Mennonite crib quilts, to Depression-era flour-sack appliquée, to Victorian silk crazy quilts. Their importance was recognized by the federal government when the collection was designated Canadian Cultural Property, granting them legal protection and ensuring standards of preservation.
The size and scope of the collection has attracted a great deal of interest from interested members of the public, quilt guild members, and academics. Topics of potential study include issues of gender, materials and techniques, trade, and design. Kicking off a research programme, the Material Culture Institute sponsored a Quilting Practice research project in the summer of 2007, which collected interviews from contemporary local quilters. This material was integrated into the inaugural Rosenberg quilt exhibition, held at the McMullen Gallery (University Hospital) and the Human Ecology Gallery, also sponsored by the Material Culture Institute. The show, “Collecting Comfort,” ran from October 26 to December 9, 2007, to an enthusiastic public response.
The Rosenberg quilt collection will continue to be used for teaching, exhibition, and research, inspiring contemporary practitioners, and keeping this historic tradition alive.
Department of Human Ecology,
University of Alberta