SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) curator of collections Luke Kelly, part of what makes the museum’s new exhibit so compelling is that the “artists probably never intended for their creation to hang on the wall of a museum.” Kelly spoke with ABC4 about the UMFA exhibit “Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts.” 

The showcase is part of a traveling exhibit from the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and opened on February 19, 2022, right here in SLC. The exhibit includes quilts from “early traditional European and American quilt-making as well as contemporary” pieces. Kelly says the displayed quilts are designed to function like a map of the creators’ personal history, and as a memento of the time and place in which the quilt was created. 

When asked why quilts should be displayed like “fine art,” Kelly remarked that the purpose of the exhibit is to tell “a more personal story about the creators.” Kelly mentions how the exhibit includes quilts made by a wide variety of people from the years spanning from 1810-2014. He says the quilts on display were made for a variety of purposes, both utilitarian and artistic. 

Kelly says the curation process was “just like a painting show or sculpture show” despite featuring such an everyday medium as art. He said that he and other workers at UMFA tried to “take advantage of the medium” of quilting by making sure they were displayed in ways that allow viewers to truly enjoy them for what they are. 

Kelly confirms that Utah has a rich history of quilting, making it an excellent home for this exhibit. He says that quilting is part of a “160-year tradition since the first pioneers” in Utah that represents a rich culture of artistry meeting practicality. UMFA also has a supplemental gallery of Utah quilts that is on display in addition to the traveling exhibit from the American Folk Art Museum. This gallery includes a running list of all the different quilting guilds and groups that have existed in Utah since the 19th century. 

Mother’s Day weekend is a great time to check out this exhibit, as quilting is historically a skill “passed down from mother to daughter” and connects family members to each other, according to Kelly. He emphasizes, however, that quilting is not just for women; the exhibit features quilts made by artists of many genders. One of the displayed quilts was made by a British soldier stationed in India during the 1850s. 

“There’s something for everyone here,” concludes Kelly, saying the exhibit is an incredible display of craftsmanship and artistry combined in a way that highlights something “everyday” as worthy of celebration. 

You can learn more about “Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts” at UMFA’s website here