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Stars of the Show

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Indiana celebrates its 200th birthday next year, but the Indiana State Museum got the party started early with its new 19 Stars: Quilts of Indiana'sPresent and Past exhibit. It features 38 star-themed quilts -- 19 historic ones and 19 of contemporary design.

Indiana was the 19th state to enter the Union, and it has 19 stars on its flag, hence the name of the exhibit. The Indiana State Museum recently rolled out 19 quilts from its extensive collection of about 700, which have been researched internationally. The collection includes quilts that have toured as far and wide as England and Japan. The museum specially commissioned 19 contemporary quilts from artists across the state for this first show in its bicentennial series.

Judy Morton's work will be displayed at the Indiana State Museum's 19 Stars: Quilts of Indiana's Present and Past exhibit. - COURTESY OF JUDY MORTON
  • Courtesy of Judy Morton
  • Judy Morton's work will be displayed at the Indiana State Museum's 19 Stars: Quilts of Indiana's Present and Past exhibit.

"The idea was to do a best-of-the-best exhibit, showing the range of quilt-making in Indiana," says Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker, the curator of social history who's in charge of the museum's quilt collection.

The works span some 150 years, dating from the 1830s to the 1980s. Of course the collection includes examples of the familiar Blazing Star, the patchwork pattern popularized from around 1835 to 1843. The version on display is the oldest in the show. Several Amish quilts from the museum's renowned Pottinger Collection are also included.

"I went through all our quilts, which are all photographed in a catalogue, and looked for the widest variety of star patterns that tell Indiana stories," Teeters-Eichacker says. " And frankly, we were looking for work that popped off the wall."

Visitors will likely notice a stark difference between information provided about the modern pieces and the details on the historic ones. Truth is there simply wasn't much recorded about quilters of antiquity. However, Teeters-Eichacker says the museum can explain quite well the process, biographies and all manner of methods used by today's artists.

Nineteen historic quilts hang on display among 19 contemporary quilts -- all with a common thread: stars. - PROVIDED BY THE INDIANA STATE MUSEUM
  • Provided by the Indiana State Museum
  • Nineteen historic quilts hang on display among 19 contemporary quilts -- all with a common thread: stars.

Contemporary pieces specially created for the exhibit deploy a wide range of techniques, including applique, improvisational, collaging, layering, traditional piecework and textural thread painting, incorporating the star theme in a variety of ways, both hand-sewn and machine-stitched.

The participating artists come from as far away as Lake Michigan and the Ohio River. The Central Indiana artists whose work is exhibited include Kaye England, Linda Gray, Jedy Pleiss and Caryl Schuetz of Indianapolis, Cathy Franks of Carmel and Terri Degenkold of Noblesville.

Like a fabric Spirograph image, Sandra Peterson's Bohemian Fireworks quilt features a variety of star patterns within circles. - PROVIDED BY THE INDIANA STATE MUSEUM
  • Provided by the Indiana State Museum
  • Like a fabric Spirograph image, Sandra Peterson's Bohemian Fireworks quilt features a variety of star patterns within circles.

"The only direction we gave was that it had to be a minimum of 4 feet on any one side, and incorporate stars in some form," Teeters-Eichacker explains. "The artists took various directions with it."

Stars have long been a popular pattern in quilt-making, and can be seen in many variations in the exhibit.

"Stars have been so significant to America, in our national flag and the flag for each state, as well as our own state flag," she says. "It's been around in some format for thousands of years. It's a fairly easy pattern that's long been a decorative motif."

Quilters have used the historic star pattern as an inspiration and theme because it's visually interesting, according to Teeters-Eichacker.

Anita Hardwick of Crawfordsville, who has two pieces in the show, used a star pattern when creating her first quilt in 1978. She's often returned to stars since, as it's one of her favorite patterns. She was thrilled when asked to participate.

"I was raring to do a quilt," Hardwick says. "It's a great opportunity and so much fun. It's just a marvelous museum exhibit that contrasts the old stars in quilting with today's stars. It was very nicely done."

Quilting artist Linda Gray contributed this wall hanging to the Indiana State Museum's latest exhibit."  - COURTESY OF LINDA GRAY
  • Courtesy of Linda Gray
  • Quilting artist Linda Gray contributed this wall hanging to the Indiana State Museum's latest exhibit."

Hardwick was fascinated to see the different interpretations among the quilters, including ones who influenced her own work. She says visitors to the show will have a chance to see high-quality work by artists who have had a big impact on the quilting world.

"It's just great that quilting is getting the respect of being shown in a museum setting," she says. "It's been thought of as a home craft, I guess you would say. To show it in a museum recognizes it as an art form. One of my pieces was meant to be used on a bed, but it was the only bed quilt among the contemporary pieces. The rest were made for the walls."

The collection of star-themed quilts is on display in The Wilbur E. and Florence Jeup Ford Gallery and the NiSource Gallery of Indiana Art on the third floor through Oct. 4.

"It's a visual feast," Teeters-Eichacker says. "There's something in each gallery to encourage creativity. There's wonderful, astounding work in both galleries."

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