Jonathan Holstein’s interest in early American life and its artifacts led him, with Honoree Gail van der Hoof, to acquire a large quilt collection, mainly from Pennsylvania and the New England states. He found quilts to be similar to modern art and wanted to share their collection with the general public in an art museum that would display their quilts on the walls– like paintings.
In June of 1971, 62 pieced quilts from this collection were placed on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The success of the exhibit was great, causing the six-week exhibition to be extended to mid-September. The publicity and favorable responses from art critics inspired other museums to host quilt exhibitions curated by Holstein, across America, in Europe and Japan. His research resulted in the publication of The Pieced Quilt: An American Design Tradition in 1973.
In 2003, Jonathan announced that his historic collection of quilts and archival materials would be donated to the International Quilt Study Center. Included in this extensive collection of more than four hundred quilts are the sixty-two quilts from the original Whitney Museum show.
Jonathan served as a driving force in the revival of quilts in the 1970s. His work continues today, as he writes, lectures, plans exhibits, juries quilt exhibitions, and advocates for the scholarly study of quilts on an international level.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Holstein
“This is an exhibition of American pieced quilts, chosen in a particular way: all elements of craft expertise, all consideration of age, condition, historical or regional significance have been disregarded, and we have concentrated only on how each quilt works as a ‘painting’. That is, does it form a cohesive, strong and important visual statement?”
Jonathan Holstein, American Pieced Quilts, Smithsonian Institution exhibit catalog (1972), pg. 7