As a newbie quilter in the early 80s, I clearly remember attending an exhibit at the Oakland Museum titled American Quilts: a Handmade Legacy. The exhibit was outstanding, but what stands out in my memory is the film Quilts in Women’s Lives by Pat Ferrero. This thoughtful and inspiring film features the stories of seven quiltmakers who share their passion for making quilts.
Shortly thereafter, I had the good fortune to work at Empty Spools, a quilt shop owned by Diana McClun, a woman who would go on to have a huge impact on my quilting life as my creative partner. Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! , our first book collaboration, was published by Michael Kile, an editor/publisher who had published a series called Quilt Digests. Each volume included articles written by experts in a variety of quiltmaking fields. One of those experts was Julie Silber, whom I mentioned in a previous post, a woman renowned for her knowledge of the history of our quilting craft. Julie was also one of the coordinators of that Oakland Museum exhibit that so captured my attention.
As a long-time admirer of Julie’s work, I wanted to take the opportunity of this post to tell her story to our readers. Even though I was armed with a long list of questions, Julie and I never made it past the first two because she had so much to share, and I was a transfixed listener. I’m sure she’s told her tale many a time, but her enthusiasm and passion for her work would lead any listener to believe that this time was the first.
Julie was born in Detroit into a family of first-generation Americans. Her Jewish upper-middle-class parents were both art collectors, and she was exposed to a wealth of beautiful paintings and sculpture as a child, but quilts had never crossed her path.
After graduating with an art degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Julie headed to California where she met up with two friends, Pat Ferrero and Linda Reuther, who would prove to be major influencers on her career direction. Both friends displayed quilts as artwork on the walls of their homes. Linda’s was a simple country-style quilt that had been made by her grandmother, while Pat’s was a late-Victorian Log Cabin Barn Raising design circa 1880. It was purchased in a San Francisco thrift store where Pat found it balled up in a corner of the shop.
The combination of Linda’s emotional attachment to her grandmother’s quilt and Pat’s stunningly beautiful quilt helped to “seal the deal” on Julie’s passion for quilts. She was touched on both a visual and emotional level. Julie says she made this realization only later in looking back and trying to understand why quilts hit her so powerfully.
Julie immediately jumped into collecting and buying/selling antique quilts. When asked what it is about a quilt that compels a purchase for her personal collection, she reveals that the quilt has to speak to her in a memorable way. Her reaction to the quilt might be emotional, or what she calls a “gut” reaction: visually stunning in color or design, or both.
She continues to buy and sell quilts, hold exhibitions, lecture, and curate gallery shows across the country. One of her current shows–Off the Wall: Maverick Quilts–is on display at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, TX, through March 31, 2013.
Here are a few more of Julie’s memorable quilts from her private collection.
Julie is generously donating an out-of-print copy of Volume 1 of The Quilt Digest (cover shown above) to one lucky reader. Please leave a comment by end of day February 15 telling us what makes a quilt memorable to you. I will announce the winner in my post later that month.
Julie Silber is a lecturer, author and curator with more than forty years’ experience collecting and studying quilts. She is the curator of the former Esprit Quilt Collection in San Francisco, and is currently the curator of the Susie Tompkins Buell Quilt Collection and the Douglas R. Tompkins Quilt Collection. Julie is the associate producer of the film, Hearts and Hands. She was the curator of several major quilt exhibitions including American Quilts: A Handmade Legacy at the Oakland Museum and Amish: The Art of the Quilt, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. With her partner Jean Demeter, Julie owns her own business, The Quilt Complex, which offers quilt-related services including appraisals, consulting, and brokerage to individuals, institutions, and corporations. The Quilt Complex and Julie Silber’s Blog.