book review: Amish Quilts

I just finished reading a really interesting book. "Amish Quilts" by Janneken Smucker explains how Amish quilts --- which at one time. of course, were just called quilts --- came to be a major American brand.

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She tells a fascinating story of how old, dark-colored quilts made by Amish women came to be sought out by collectors and how only these quilts came to be valued as "Amish" while other quilts of original design were considered less "Amish" by outsiders.

If you've ever had an interest in marketing and the making of a brand, or art history or collecting, you will love this book.

Its a fairly academic approach to the content, in fact the book is published by John Hopkins University Press, but still, its quite readable and covers quite a bit of territory. It was published recently, 2013.

The frenzy of collecting and owning authentic Amish quilts began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when art enthusiasts from New York began comparing these pieced quilts --- the plain ones made with dark fabrics and covered in intricate hand stitching --- to abstract art.

Once that comparison was made, the race was on and a brand was born.

Lot of city folk and antique dealers, some called "pickers" made connections to the Amish community and "picked up" these old quilts for low prices. They visited homes where these quilts were often stored in attics, or trunks. Then they sold them in the cities for much more... and these pickers began the making of a brand of quilts.

The book also covers how eventually, industrious Amish women realized they could make money with quilts themselves... rather than sell low and let their profits go to dealers in the city. They came to see quilting as a way to supplement the family's farm income and many of them went into business making and selling quilts.

The author also covers how non-Amish dealers commissioned these quilts, and explains the genesis of some of the major collections of Amish quilts in the U.S.

It even talks about how major retail chains, such as Land's End, came to offer an exclusive collection of handmade Amish quilts and how Lancaster County tried desperately to own and protect a large collection of quilts in order to promote tourism in Pennsylvania.

As the author explains, 'Amish' - in connection with 'quilt' - originally meant different things to different people. But today, Amish quilts are a brand name that no one protects or controls, but is firmly associated with a particular style of Americana and quilts of a certain color made by one particular community.

Title: Amish Quilts, Crafting an American Icon
Author: Janneken Smucker
Publisher: The John Hopkins University Press
Edition: 2013


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