Coast-to-coast “Don’t Miss” Exhibits, Part 1: 82 Amish Quilts from the Esprit Collection in Lancaster, PA

The Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum

Within the past few weeks, news of two noteworthy (and very different) quilt exhibits has crossed my radar, one on each side of the country. I originally intended to tell you about both of them in one post, but Christie suggested that a single post couldn’t possibly do them justice. So this time around, I’ll share the news that next month, for one week only, the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum (Lancaster, PA) will mount a special exhibit: “The Art of the Quilt: 82 Quilts from the Former Esprit Collection.”  This landmark display of vintage Amish quilts kicks off on Tuesday evening, March 13, with a by-reservation preview reception and dinner with former curator of the Esprit collection, Julie Silber. The exhibit opens to the public on Wednesday, March 14 and runs through Sunday, March 18. For a complete schedule of exhibit hours, curator tours, and other related special events, click here.

Diamond in a Square, Lancaster County, PA, c. 1925. Gift of Irene L. Walsh. One of the 82 quilts that will be on exhibit at the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum.


The architecture of the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum is a work of art in itself!

This is the first time the entire collection of 82 quilts will be seen together since they appeared at the deYoung Museum (San Francisco) in 1990 and, as Julie says, “Who knows when they will ever come together again?” The Lancaster venue, a circa-1912 Beaux-Arts bank building, is a work of art in itself. The quilts will be shown in the Grand Hall, utilizing both ground and fly space for a multidimensional visual experience. The show is timed to coordinate with the AQS Quilt Show and Contest, set for March 14 – 17 at the Lancaster County (PA) Convention Center, within walking distance of the museum site.

Lone Star, Lancaster County, PA, c. 1920. Gift of Irene N. Walsh. Does this quilt look familiar?
Lone Star was one of four Amish quilts commemorated on first-class US postage stamps in August, 2001.

The journey of these amazing quilts, from rural Lancaster County to the West Coast and back again, makes a wonderful story. When Doug Tompkins, founder of the Esprit Corporation in San Francisco, saw the groundbreaking “Abstract Design in American Quilts” at the Whitney Museum of Art (NY) in 1971, he was so inspired–particularly by the Amish quilts–that he began collecting in the Lancaster area. For many years, various quilts from the collection were on display at the Esprit corporate headquarters, and the public was welcome to stop by and see them. In 1983, Julie Silber was hired to curate the collection.

Bars, Lancaster County, PA, c.1920. Gift of the Great Women of Lancaster.

In 2000, when Doug made plans to sell the quilts, he enlisted Julie’s help. Hoping to keep the collection intact and to see it returned “home,” Julie arranged the sale of all 82 pieces to the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, who purchased the quilts through a highly successful fundraising effort. Since 2002, various quilts have been shown, but never the entire collection.

Diamond in a Square, Lancaster County, PA, c.1920 - 1925. Gift of Irene N. Walsh. Another quilt chosen for postage-stamp honors.

Bottom line: if you’re able to visit the Lancaster area in mid-March, don’t miss this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see 82 amazing quilts. (For advance tickets, click here.) After March 18, the majority will be returned to storage, with a select 18 on exhibit until December 31. If you’d like to help ensure the future of this renowned collection, the Lancaster County Heritage Quilt Fund has been established to create an endowment for the preservation, curatorial care, exhibition, and storage of the quilts.

Bars (Segmented Variation), Lancaster County, PA, c.1910. This is one of my personal favorites.

Finally, if you’re a “bookie,” you might enjoy the museum’s catalog, “Amish Quilts of Lancaster County” by Patricia T. Herr, and the 1990 classic “Amish: The Art of the Quilt” by Robert Hughes and Julie Silber, now available in a softcover version.

"Amish Quilts of Lancaster County" by Patricia Herr
“Amish: The Art of the Quilt” by Robert Hughes and Julie Silber

Many thanks to Wendy Nagle, Executive Director of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, for her generous assistance and for providing the photographs for this post.

In my March 9 post, we’ll visit another “don’t miss” show, this time in California. ‘Til then, happy sewing!

 P.S. I was so inspired by writing this post that the inspiration spilled over into my creative time today! Here’s my little collage for February 24, 2012.

"Amish Inspiration" 3" x 5", made by Darra Williamson, 2/24/12.


11 thoughts on “Coast-to-coast “Don’t Miss” Exhibits, Part 1: 82 Amish Quilts from the Esprit Collection in Lancaster, PA

  1. Pingback: An Ongoing Story
  2. Loved this article! I was just there in October, and it was a thrill to see the quilts. (I saw them in SF years ago.) The use of color in these quilts is unique and exquisite, and I love that Amish-inapired quilts are coming onto the scene. The bank building in Lancaster was a destination in itself—I took pics of the decorative elements, thinking of new quilting patterns. What a great experience!


    1. Glad you enjoyed the article, Christine. I hope you’ll check back for Part 2 on Friday…a <> different experience! Darra


  3. This post caught my eye as I had the opportunity a few years ago to visit the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum, what a wonderful place! Would love to go back and see all the quilts. Spent the last hour looking at your blog….love it.


  4. oooooooooohhhhh! I’d love to see them. I have calendar pages of those quilts in my sewing space, so they inspire me every day. what’s the best way to fly to Lancaster from Winnipeg?


  5. HI Darra,

    Thanks for doing such a thoughtful and beautiful post on this ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME event coming up. Many people have told me that they WISH they had taken the opportunity to see these quilt when they were at ESPRIT in San Francisco, an option never to be had again. And how many people have we hear say they could kick themselves for not getting to last march’s Red and White Show in New York, another ephemeral experience… I am hoping to see some of you in Lancaster! Julie Silber


  6. sometimes we forget to see the simplicity in everything around us… the amish have a beautiful and simple style to quilts. love their quilting i enjoyed the amish quilt exhibit when it was in san francisco, and look forward to your next blog taking us on another tour.


  7. Darra, Thank you for bringing this show to our attention. We were planning a trip to Charleston around that time may have to reconsider. Have been to Lancaster and we both enjoyed the area. Even BW was amazed at the Amish quilts especially the hand quilting on them. Yes, I still love to hand quilt.


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