Memory and Meaning:
Textiles from the Permanent Collection
August 31, 2019-January 12, 2020


Textiles surround us from birth to death, providing warmth and protection. But beyond serving as clothing and bedding, they can also convey social status, express love for another, preserve memories, record history, provide social and political commentary and serve as a means of artistic expression. If cloth could talk, telling us the stories of makers and users, what would these things say? This exhibition features textiles from the MAC’s permanent collection, including 19th and 20th century quilts, handwoven coverlets, and pieces from the American Indian collection.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a rare embroidered Bengali quilt which, according to recent research, is most likely one of the oldest surviving quilts in the United States. Its design, materials, and construction indicate that it was made in Bengal during the 17th century. Genealogical research suggests that it was brought to Massachusetts during the 1600s and to Spokane around 1900 by the family of David L. Huntington, for whom Huntington Park is named. This provenance is supported by consultation with outside experts.

Also on display:

Patchwork and appliqué quilts, valued for both their visual and tactile appeal, are familiar to many Americans whose ancestors created and passed down these cherished bedcoverings.

Crazy quilts, especially popular from 1880-1920, are known for their asymmetry, luxury fabrics, and elaborate embellishments. Two excellent regional examples are included in the show.

Woven coverlets were commonly used by Americans as bedcovers from colonial times until the Civil War. Three types of coverlets are on display: Overshot, Doublecloth, and Figured and Fancy.

Select pieces from the American Indian collection include late-19th century Navajo chief blankets and 20th century saddle blankets from the Columbia River Plateau; a beautifully embellished deerskin dress made by Clara Moore, who was renowned for her beadwork; and an embroidered shirt worn by rodeo champion Jackson Sundown, nephew of Chief Joseph, who dazzled crowds with his skilled riding.

Everyone from quilt and textile enthusiasts and history buffs to students and families will enjoy this exhibition as will anyone who appreciates functional art.

“ …the tactile nature of cloth resonates with our entire human history, from swaddling
blankets to shrouds… “

–Sandra Sider, Quilting Arts Magazine, February/March 2019


This exhibition was co-curated by textile researcher Dana Fobes Bowne and the MAC’s Collection Curator Valerie Wahl.

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Related Programs

Quilts: A Brief History and
How to Care for Them

Saturday, Nov 16, 2019, 2 pm
Cost: $10, suggested donation 

A fascinating glimpse into the
history of American quilt-making
plus a rare private viewing of 
several quilts in the Museum's
collection that are too fragile 
to exhibit. 

Learn more about

American patchwork and
appliqué quilts

Crazy quilts

Rodeo champion Jackson Sundown