The Alaska State Museums' Online Resources are designed to give teachers, students and families access to the Museums' current exhibits and collections. Using historical information and guided interpretation, learners can visit and learn from exhibits which they may not have the opportunity to physically view. All activities and lesson plans are correlated to the State Content Standards for the Arts, English/Language Arts and Social Studies. The activities are written for selected grade levels but we encourage teachers to modify and adapt the activities to meet the needs of their particular students.

The Quilts of Alaska exhibit program is the first of a series of such resources. The upcoming Eight Stars of Gold exhibit, featuring Benny Benson, will be the next program on line. Watch for it in January 2002.

The story of the origin of the quilts exhibition is unique. A group of quilters in Juneau, avid readers of magazines and journals concerned with the art and craft of quilting, became interested in contributing to a national quilt documentation project in the late 1980s. They felt sure that Alaskans would have interesting and valuable quilts to add to the growing American retrospective survey. The group needed funding to sponsor a workshop so that they could learn how to date the quilts that Alaskans brought forth. What better way than with a quilt raffle! In 1990 the group raised the money, formed a committee and had a workshop in Juneau.  After several years, when the scope of the project had grown larger than the Juneau committee had ever imagined, the group applied for and received funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Museum, and the Friends of the State Museum. This funding allowed the Committee to make the project truly statewide, enabling trained personnel to travel to other communities to date and record information about the quilts.

One of the first things the Juneau committee did was to set goals for this statewide project. They were committed and ambitious in their thinking. The final goals for the project were to:

  • Document the historical, geographical, and social connections between quilts and their Alaska contexts; bring quilts as material art and artifact into the wider community consciousness;
  • Record the voices of Alaskan women, telling their own stories of family heirlooms;
  • Reveal any cross-cultural influences in quilt design and production;
  • Heighten the appreciation of quilts and textiles as art forms;
  • Promote the conservation and preservation of quilts;
  • Convey the passion of quilting in women's lives; and
  • Emphasize the domestic context in which much of women’s art is made.

After they dated and registered the quilts and built a database of information about them, the committee spent countless agonizing hours selecting what would go into the final exhibit at the State Museum and the printed catalogue. They made the difficult decision to include only quilts made before 1959 in the museum exhibit, except for any examples of Native-made quilts that they might find.

The story of this exhibit is truly a piece of Alaska history. The committee tales, the stories from the quilt owners, and the historical research that help enrich the context of the quilts, tell some of what it means to live in Alaska.  Most importantly, the stories that the quilts themselves tell to viewers resonate with them.

“The link between hand-made objects and the people who make them or own them is powerful. Unlike art objects, which are viewed occasionally in a museum setting and become isolated from life or their original context, quilts made and used in the home remain integrated with life, bridging both past and present. Their reason for creation is not lost. Most traditional quilts were initially sewn for a utilitarian purpose, but just like so many other functional works of art, quilts served (and serve) other purposes as well. Through their fabric, design and color, quilts hold together pieces of experience and feeling which shape lives. The strongest memories are coupled with strong feelings and these are often visual. They do not come in words but in colors and patterns. In some strong or subtle way, quilts are always expressive, always autobiographical…." (Quilts of Alaska, Pg. 56)

We have selected six types of quilts to highlight on this website. We provide background that includes an historical context, artist information, design elements and suggestions for ways to critically analyze the quilts. Activities for a specific age level are provided for the six quilt categories but we hope teachers will adapt and modify the activities to the needs of their students.

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