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AQSG: Serious study with a dash of fun

AQSG: Serious study with a dash of fun

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

From AQSG's 2018 seminar
Ann Dagge's quilt - tour of Smithsonian Art History Museum
Patricia Smith Collection

Do you love knowing the story behind a quilt? And just looking at beautiful quilts? Check out the American Quilt Study Group!

The organization (also known as AQSG) was formed in 1980 in Mill Valley, California, to preserve the story of quiltmaking, both past and present. Nearly 40 years later, the group is going strong. 

AQSG member Sandra Starley says of joining the organization in 2005 “It was one of those finding-your-tribe kinds of things. You can look at a quilt in isolation, but there’s so much to be learned when you share quilts and what you know about them.” 

AQSG takes quilt history and research seriously. They publish the quarterly Blanket Statements that includes research articles, along with news of the quilt world, new books, and listings of exhibitions and shows.  Two recent articles were “Hidden Treasures: What’s Really Inside My Quilt” by the aforementioned Sandra Starley, about finding unexpected quilt fillers and batting alternatives in old quilts and “A Red Cross Quilt from Sugar Grove, Virginia” by Neva Hart, about quilts created in WWI to raise money for the Red Cross. 

Uncoverings, AQSG’s annual journal, has covered topics like “The Mystery of the Harlequin Star Quilts: Finding and Naming a Previously Unidentified Regional Design” by Kathleen L. Moore, and “Baltimore Album Quilts: New Research” by Debra Cooney and Ronda Harrell McAllen. 

Popular talk/trunk show by Mimi Dietrich - appliqué quilt expert-AQSG seminar 2018

These titles indicate the seriousness of intent of AQSG members and strong, well-supported quilt research is an AQSG hallmark. To further quilt research, the organization offers mentoring for those who are intrigued by a particular quilt or quilt-related topic, but worry they don’t have the skill set to study it in depth and to share those studies. They also offer grants to help researchers cover some of the costs of those efforts. And members have access to 40 years Uncoveringsabstracts, via an online, searchable database. 

Each year at the group’s annual seminar members gather to share research in person, to view quilts and exhibitions in nearby venues, and to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Sandra notes that as the event moves around to different parts of the country, attendees are exposed to a variety of regional quilting styles. And though the research presentations are academic in nature, the group is ultimately bound by a shared love of antique quilts and is not immune to laughter and hijinks. 

Crowds at bed turnings, quilt display-AQSG 2018 seminar
Brian and Donna Ruppert Collection

The event’s annual fundraising auction is led by quilt dealer Julie Silber and bidding is encouraged by her sidekicks, the Juliettes. “We’re the Vanna Whites of the auction and usually we’ll dress up,” says Sandra, who is an attorney, pattern-designer, AQS certified quilt appraiser, and lecturer on antique quilts. “In Wisconsin, we wore cheeseheads and in New England it was wreaths made of fall leaves.”  Another clue to the nature of the members is the whimsical title of the 2016 Uncoverings article “Mary Catherine Lamb: Lady of Perpetual Garage Sales,” by Susan A. D. Stanley. Quilt study is no joke, but that doesn’t mean AQSG members lack a sense fun. (Quilt research isn't limited to antique quilts—Mary Catherine Lamb, who lived from 1949 to 2009, made vivid and eccentric quilts depicting saints that influenced the art quilt movement.)  

While AQSG’s work is academic in nature, Sandra Starley emphasizes that it’s not necessary to be a scholar to join and benefit from AQSG membership. “We have a lot of people who join because they love quilts and make quilts and want to gain more knowledge. There’s so about American culture you can learn from studying old quilts.”

Next week we’ll post about AQSG’s biennial quilt challenge, where members create quilts based on antique quilt inspiration. Stay tuned! And are you an AQSG member? We’d love to hear what the group means to you. 

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