Looking across city blocks and quilt blocks, roadways and seams, one can see a visible kinship between quilt making and cartography. Both are built upon established systems that use color, pattern, and symbols to create whole compositions from a network of interlocked parts.
Quilts and maps are also infused with history and memory—similarly living records of traditions, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and future aspirations. What can be gleaned from a bit of patchwork cut from a wedding dress, castoff feed sack, or commemorative flag? How are personal, political, cultural, and spiritual ideals inscribed onto a quilt’s surface, creating a network of roadways and landmarks that illustrate the quilt maker’s world and his or her place within it?
Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts is an invitation to read quilts as maps, tracing the paths of individual stories and experiences that illuminate larger historic events and cultural trends. Spanning the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, the exhibition brings together a collection of quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum that represents a range of materials, motifs, and techniques—from traditional early-American quilts to more contemporary sculptural assemblage. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Our Queens, a participatory activity open to all during gallery hours (Monday–Thursday, 11 am to 5 pm). Visitors are invited to take up a needle and thread to embroider landmarks—marking significant places, events, and memories—onto a canvas map of Queens. (Previous sewing skills are not required.) To document this public collaboration, the Self-Taught Genius Gallery has a blog, where stories and memories are recorded throughout the duration of the project.