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Quilt Collector - Ken Burns

I read the article in the New York Times, with great interest - Show Us Your Wall: Don't Tell Ken Burns Quilts Are Quaint. Although the article is two years old, excerpts of the conversation give the reader a glimpse into Mr. Burns' genuine passion for quilts, especially those in his collection. The photo of the "Circular Wreath" quilt that hangs above his bed in his Manhattan apartment, makes a powerful statement.

"I make films for other people. I collect quilts for me."

"I don’t know the provenance of some of these quilts, and I’m okay with that. To me, it’s about chemistry. It’s like when you fall in love. Or you go to high school and there’s 500 people in your class, and you recognize everybody by face, and you know 250 by name, and you’re acquaintances with 75, and you’re friends with 25, and 5 you’ll know for the rest of your life. That’s the way I pick quilts. Will we be friends forever? We all make mistakes. I have quilts where I think, “Why did you do that?” But at the time, there was a full-hearted enthusiasm for that quilt, because I needed to have that quilt, to have that friendship.”

Filmmaker Ken Burns has collected quilts since the 1970's, but he’s never publicly shared his collection (until January 2018). In this interview with Nebraska Stories, Burns shares why he’s become a collector of this beautiful and functional art form. In the video below, Ken Burns states, "as an avocation, as a hobby, I have pursued collecting what I think is the cleanest, simplest and most authentic expression of who we are as a people."


“I pick quilts from my gut, from my heart. My heart says yes. We’ll hold them up, and go, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, yes.” It’s thrilling to say yes. My heart skips a beat. You fall in love with people. You fall in love with quilts.”

How fortunate we are that the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, in Lincoln, Nebraska was able to display 28 of his quilts for the exhibition, "Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection." To him, each of these textiles represents a moment in time and American history—a nexus of individuals and geography and culture that can never be fully recovered, but which is nevertheless represented in these strikingly graphic compositions. Burns is less concerned with the provenance and genealogy of his quilts than with their gestalt—both their visual impact on the viewer, and their implicit connections to life stories.

“My grandmother, when I was a little boy, made a big, huge, heavy quilt for me out of post-World War II sweaters and blankets and fabric. There’s no quilting in it, but she pieced it together, and I lived under it until it started to fall apart. My grandmother would say, “That was your father’s this, and that was your father’s that, and that was your grandfather’s this, and your uncle’s that, and this was my this.” In some ways it was my trip around their world.”



From their website: The International Quilt Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of publicly owned quilts—and one of the most comprehensive. Our collection now includes more than 5,000 quilts and quilt-related objects representing 50 countries dating from the 1700s to today. The museum has expanded its international and art collections in recent years. We are building a collection which reflects quiltmaking traditions from around the world and throughout history and today. The museum acquires quilts through donations and a private acquisitions fund. Potential new pieces are reviewed by the museum’s acquisitions committee, which includes museum curators and experts in historical, international and artistic quilts.

The International Quilt Museum

1523 North 33rd Street, Lincoln, NE | Phone: 402-472-6549

Hours: Monday (closed); Tuesday - Saturday (10am-4pm; Sunday (1pm-4pm Feb-Nov)

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