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California history in quilts; a new traveling exhibit starts out in Fresno.

California history in quilts History isn't always written in broad strokes. As the California Heritage Quilt Project illustrates, it's often pieced together from layer upon layer of smaller stores: a birth date here, a discarded campaign banner there, a pioneer girl's carefully stitched expression of hope--"Ho for California."

That pioneer sentiment is the title of a traveling exhibit of 41 quilts documenting the state's history over a period ranging from the 1848 gold rush to the end of World War II. The exhibit opened November 24 at the Fresno Art Museum; it will tour California for more than a year.

Poignant stories surround almost every quilt. The quilt called "Northumberland Star" survived a wagon-train trip from Wisconsin to California made in 1864 by a family that, when three of their horses died, had to leave a wagon, a featherbed, and five other quilts by the side of the road with a sign reading, "Help Yourself." The "Nine Patch Variation" came to California wrapped around a prized treadle machine brought west by Kentucky sharecroppers seeking a better life.

Photographs and letters of the quiltmakers, period furniture, and interpretive panels accompany the quilts.

A roundup of quilts--and stories

This art is personal, and accessible. As Robert Barrett of the Fresno museum says, "Artists like bold shapes and colors, historians are interested in their social significance, and many people--people who wouldn't otherwise come to an art museum--can relate to the family histories."

That's what quilt project researchers discovered in 1983, when they began to search out interesting old quilts and document them. Traveling around the state from Eureka to San Diego over a two-year period, they held "Quild Days" to gather old quilts and record the stories of their makers. In community rooms, museums, and rural grange halls across the state, people turned out in droves to share heirloom quilts and, with them, pieces of family history. More than 3,300 quilts were photographed and catalogued.

A hundred of them are pictured in Jean Ray Laury's Ho for California: Women and Their Quilts (E.P. Dutton, New York, scheduled for February 1990; $22.50 paperback, $32.50 hardbound). Advance copies will be sold at the Fresno museum's shop.

How to share your own treasures

If you have quilts dating back beyond 1945, you can register in the project's archives by writing to the project, Box 321, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif. 92007.

You can also bring quilts for evaluation to the Fresno Art Museum on Quilt Sharing Day, from 10 to 4 on March 9, 1990.

The National Quilting Association registers quilts made since 1976 for $5, and operates a lost quilt service; write Box 393, Ellicott City, Md. 21043-0393.

The exhibit's itinerary

Here's the route these fabric works will take around the state.

Fresno Art Museum (2233 N. First STreet) hosts the show until next April 1; hours are 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays. Author Jean Ray Laury will lecture December 12; call (209) 485-4810 for details.

In coming months, quilts will be a focus elsewhere in Fresno, too. November 25 to March 25, the Kearney Mansion (7160 W. Kearney Boulevard) will show 16 quilts made between 1820 and 1930; 441-0862. The Metropolitan Museum (1555 Van Ness Avenue) will display California Mennonite Quilts from January 17 to May 31; call 441-1444. Portions of the "Names" quilt, sewn to commemorate AIDS victims, go on view at Selland Arena (700 M Street) March 17 and 18; 223-8368.

San Diego Historical Society, in Balboa Park, will sho the quilts, along with local textile arts and household items, from May 19 to September 2, 1990.

Mills College Art Gallery, in Oakland, mounts the show from October 7 through December 15.

The Humboldt Cultural Center, in Eureka, is the show's last stand: January 5 through February 24, 1991.

After the exhibit travels the state, the quilts will be housed for further research and study at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's American Quilt Research Center; you can write to the center at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90036.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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