Kate Adams examines Flower Wreath, a quilt from the Joyce Gross collection attributed to Elizabeth Bell, New York, circa 1850-1875, at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Lelia O Ki Awawa by Pine Hawkes Eisfeller, circa 1930. From the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection. Photo courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Penny Tree, maker unknown, circa 1850. From the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection. This is one of several quilts in Joyce's collection formerly owned by the famous quilt collector and historian Florence Peto. Photo courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Quilts, Inc. President Karey Bresenhan, Joyce Gross, and Quilts, Inc. Executive Vice-President Nancy O’Bryant at a reception for Joyce at the 2008 International Quilt Festival/Long Beach.
Kate Adams vividly remembers that day in July, 2008 sitting in the bedroom of renowned quilt historian and collector Joyce Gross, and watching, spellbound, as a trove of magnificent quilts was pulled from closets and storage areas on the second floor of Joyce’s home in Petaluma, California.
A signed 1844 Friendship quilt in the Oak Leaf and Reel pattern; a richly detailed Baltimore Star that dates to around 1865; The Garden, a stunning 1938 appliqué quilt with stuffed work by Pine Hawkes Eisfeller— one of two by Pine in the collection were named to the “Top 100 Quilts of the 20th Century”; quilts collected by the famous quilt historian Florence Peto; award-winning quilts made by Bertha Stenge, Emma Andres and other early luminaries of the quilt world; on and on it went for hours, almost 200 quilts in all.
Gilding this amazing lily was the fact that Joyce had a story to tell about each quilt. It was a mind-boggling, visual and aural feast that left Kate, the former Associate Director of the Center for American History (CAH) at the University of Texas at Austin, and her CAH colleague Associate Director Brenda Gunn, both exhausted and exhilarated.
Joyce, in failing health and scheduled to enter a retirement home the very next day, had already decided to part with her impressive collection of quilts, tops, research materials, quilt-related ephemera, and an extensive library of textile-related books and catalogs.
Widely recognized as one of the foremost experts on 20th century quilts in the country, Joyce knew exactly what she wanted for her life’s work: she wanted her collection to remain intact, to be properly cared for, and to be readily available for research. The Center for American History presented a good match.
In 2005, Quilts, Inc. brought Joyce to Houston and exhibited some of her quilts at the International Quilt Festival. During that trip to Texas, Joyce and one of her daughters also visited Austin to consider the Center for American History as a possible repository for her collection.
Although the CAH didn’t acquire the collection until 2008, Joyce was impressed by the Center’s staff and facilities, its dedication to building a first-rate quilt and quilt history collection, and its emphasis on the importance of acquiring and preserving materials documenting social and women’s history.
CAH, now known as the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, has had a growing involvement with quilts since 1995, when it became responsible for administering UT’s Winedale Historical Complex. Winedale’s holdings include part of noted philanthropist Ima Hogg’s extensive quilt collection. Additional donations to Winedale’s Quilt Collection followed, including, in 2002, the extensive Kathleen McCrady Quilt History Collection, the life’s work of Austin quilt maker and quilt historian Kathleen McCrady
The CAH further expanded its activities on behalf of quilts and quilt history in 2002, when it entered into formal partnership with the Alliance for American Quilts. One of the Center’s first projects with AAQ was to participate in expanding AAQ’s Quilt Index by entering historical and descriptive data and digital images for each quilt into the Index. CAH’s Brenda Gunn managed this grant-funded project, and Kate—now happily retired—signed on to handle the data entry.
The Center’s project also added data and digital images for the 143 quilts featured in the books documenting the Texas quilt search by Karey Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes, Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts, 1836-1936 (vol. 1) and 1936-1986 (vol. 2) (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986, 1990).
Kate Adams and Joyce Gross first met in 2005, during Joyce’s trip to Festival, and have since become good friends. It is often that way when people share a love for quilts. Both women are committed to furthering quilt scholarship, both have the deepest respect for quilt makers, and both are dedicated to preserving exceptional quilts for future generations to enjoy, study, and admire. Now it is Kate who works with Joyce’s collection, putting the same sort of effort into preparing it for researchers as Joyce did in compiling it. It is fitting, somehow—this handing off from one to the other—and all for the greater good. That’s what quilters have been doing since quilts first started being made.
Sidebar: An exhibit of quilts from the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection, curated by Kate Adams, is scheduled to open at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas during the latter part of November 2009. Kate also plans to write a book about the Briscoe Center’s Winedale Quilt Collection.
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Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
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Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
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Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
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Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
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Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
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Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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