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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

About the Project

Do quiltmakers find ‘flow’ in their practices of making, and how do they value their quilts and expect them to be cared for? Are quilts signifiers of family heritage or cultural property? What ethics gird quilt preservation practices today, and how are they changing? What does it mean to ‘save’ a quilt?  

Brooke Bryan is an oral historian with interests in aesthetics, material culture, and the philosophy of conservation. Beginning a two-pronged research project in Winter 2016, she will first index and thematize oral history narratives from the Quilters Save Our Stories collection, a project of the national Quilt Alliance. Within these collections of narratives, Brooke is seeking to understand how quilters ascribe meaning and value to the quilts they make, how the practice of making impacts their habits of mind and daily patterns, and how they feel the quilts they make should be used and/or conserved. The narratives and assorted key word indexes and summaries will be published in the Quilters S.O.S. collection online, using the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) as a viewer and finding aid that allows other researchers and listeners to search for content of their particular interest within the collection of narratives.

In the second phase of the project (2016-2017), Brooke will conduct a series of oral history interviews with quiltmakers and antique quilt collectors in an investigation of value, flow, and technologically-mediated arts practices, which will also be indexed and published using OHMS.

The third phase of the project (2017-2018) will see the entire archive published and indexed, with published teaching modules to help other researchers explore the themes in the archive through disciplinary lenses of use to scholars and students in fields such as Material Culture, American Studies, Quilt Studies, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences.[/vc_column_text]

At the heart of the Fetching the Quilt Home project is a philosophical concern with the aesthetics—the phenomenological experience— of making and collecting. Guiding this inquiry is an attempt to explore skill transmission, ‘flow’, and how people value handmade objects in a era of mass production. How we imagine ourselves to care for and preserve quilts is a special question at the heart of the project— be they signifiers of a family’s material culture and stories, or pieces with a presumed historical value as cultural heritage.

Exactly what does it mean “to save” something? For 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger, we have lost its deeper meaning:

“Usually we think that it means only to seize hold of a thing threatened by ruin in order to secure it in its former continuance. But the verb ‘to save’ says more. ‘To save’ is to fetch something home into its essence.”

In establishing the field of Quilt Studies and proving quilts to be items of our shared cultural heritage, we have certainly “seized” many quilts that may have been lost to the stretches of time. We now have conventions for “securing” these quilts in “their former continuance” through our methods of conservation, preservation, and restoration/repair. We have housed quilts in fine arts and cultural institutions where we may be sure that they will remain ‘safe’ for future generations. But how can we know if we are merely seizing quilts or if we are saving them?

The first indexed narratives, in partnership with the Quilt Alliance, can be navigated beginning in February or March of 2016. Interviews conducted by Brooke in Fetching the Quilt Home are forthcoming in late 2016, continuing into 2017. An interview with Juanita Shockey Harris, an Appalachian quiltmaker, is here provided as an example of the kind of interviews that will be archived for other researchers in this project.

Of note to peer researchers is the difference of content and form between the highly produced 6-minute documentary video made for her family, and the full length oral history interview it was excerpted from below. In producing the excerpt video, many important aspects of Juanita’s experience were necessarily left out as the producer (myself) was forced to conceive of an audience and determine what of Juanita’s sentiment would make the final cut. While the piece is a lovely overview of Juanita’s life, family, and quilting practices, items of particular value to researchers are not accessible. Publishing the full-length interview as a highly-searchable multimedia experience provides entry points to other researchers that the original interviewer might not have even imagined.


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Brooke Bryan is Dean of Cooperative, Experiential & International Education as well as an Associate Professor of Writing, Aesthetics & Digital Studies at Antioch College. She specializes in phenomenological oral history and undergraduate research pedagogy. With expertise in the digital humanities, philosophy, and research interests in material and immaterial culture, she develops partnerships and field-based research opportunities for Antioch students— scaffolding their intensive engagement with communities through interview projects.

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