Jan 21, 2015

meet Kate Adams, Austin's favorite quilt curator

Kate Adams has a very cool job. She works in a building connected to the famous LBJ Library and she spends her days surrounded by American history - more specifically - American antique and vintage quilts.

Kate Adams, Quilt Curator, Briscoe Center for American History on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin.
Kate is the Quilt Curator for Briscoe Center of American History at the University of Texas, Austin. She is petite and soft spoken, with an impressive intellectual capacity, and more importantly, a vast curatorial vision for how to acquire and best use a major quilt collection.

The Briscoe Center houses some 400 quilts. Parts of this collection are available to researchers with an appointment, and that's how I was lucky enough to spend part of one very memorable day with Kate recently.

She joined the Briscoe Center in 1981 and has been a part of this institution in one form or another ever since. She actually retired at one point during this tenure, but the lure of the opportunity to touch history, and frankly the quilts themselves, drew her back once more.

The entire quilt holdings of the Briscoe Center are named The Winedale Quilt Collection.

Winedale is a tiny Texas community with a deep German-Texas heritage. Houston Philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg poured a lot of time and money into purchasing and restoring many of the historic homes and buildings in the town. Eventually, she began furnishing these homes with the intention of making them a showcase for the rich historical diversity of Texas. American furniture, artifacts and quilts quickly became a prominent features of these homes.

I can't show pictures of the quilts I was researching, which is completely understandable, but you can see images of each quilt in the Miss Ima Hogg Quilt Collection here. These date from 1780 - 1930! The photos are part of the Quilt Index - which if you've never been to this website, it is a vast and diverse collection of tens of thousands of quilt images.

What I appreciate the most about the vision that Kate and the Briscoe Center share is that the quilts they set out to collect and preserve represent quiltmakers of all types. While some are clearly masterpieces, many are not. Rather, the driving force of the Collection is to reflect the time and the history of our American culture. They are windows to our past, in some cases, created by ordinary people equipped with a needle and thread.

A case in point. The Winedale Collection includes 40 quilts that were made by Japanese and American quilters in response to 9/11. When a Japanese quiltmaker began talking with a Texas quiltmaker at International Quilt Festival following the 9/11 attacks, she knew she wanted to do something to reflect on this horrific event. She gathered her quilt friends in Japan and made a series of blocks. Later, these blocks were made into finished quilts by Texas quilters and these friendship quilts are now an integral part of the Winedale Collection and a poignant reflection of our shared history made by quilters from two very different continents and cultures.

The road between Houston and Austin is one I know quite well. Our daughter is a proud UT grad! But on this particular visit, as I pulled out of the famous LBJ Library parking lot, my mind was filled with all of the possibilities of how to bring to life the story of both our rich history and our shared heritage of quilting.

And frankly, the opportunity to travel this road once again to meet people like Kate (whom I've dubbed 'Austin's favorite quilt curator') who share this passion, well, life just doesn't get much better than that! 

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