These photos inside the historic William Heath Davis House Museum were taken a few months ago. I toured the fascinating house during the Fall Back Festival, which is held every year in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.
Dated 1850, the William Heath Davis House, like a number of other structures in early San Diego, was built on the East Coast and shipped around Cape Horn. At the time San Diego simply didn’t have the resources and tools required to build a fine wooden house. Various rooms inside the museum show what life was like in New Town a century and a half ago. It was a much simpler time. The small museum now sits in the middle of a gigantic, bustling metropolis.
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My eyes opened wide with amazement last weekend, when my docent friend provided another special tour at the San Diego Museum of Art. This time we had a good look at a surprising exhibition of early American quilts from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
These quilts, which date mostly from the 19th century, created in many instances by lone Amish and Mennonite quiltmakers, are so dazzling with brilliant colors and inventive, abstract designs that they seem thoroughly modern, like hung works of art by the greatest 20th century Abstract Expressionists.
I know relatively little about quiltmaking. All I know is that when I gazed at these vibrant works of art, I felt that I was peering into the inner life of a spiritual people, where joy, memories and dreams are represented with magically combined bits of color. These delights for the eye were created to be a warming family treasure, meant to last for generations.
In this blog post you can see just a few photos of the nearly 50 quilts on display. The craftmanship is intricate. I can’t imagine the many hours of persistent dedication, patience and love a quiltmaker required to create just one of these examples. They lived in a very different time and place. In their world living was more simple, and beauty was quietly formed from single threads.
All of these old quilts were discovered over several decades by collectors Gerald Roy and Paul Pilgrim, who also played an important role in the creation of the The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. Many of these quilts were collected solely for their aesthetic appeal. Paul Pilgrim, now deceased, was also an innovative quiltmaker.
Head to Balboa Park to visit the San Diego Museum of Art and you’ll be astounded by many of these quilts. If you do plan to visit, do so by September 5, 2016, when this very unique exhibition comes to an end.
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