Vivid Colors & Inventive Designs In ‘Quilts & Color’ At MFA, Boston

Photo: Saravuth Neou

Double Wedding Ring Quilt, African American, Missouri, about 1940, pieced cotton plain weave top, cotton plain weave back and binding; quilted, 82 by 83 inches. Pilgrim / Roy Collection. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

BOSTON, MASS. — Vibrant colors, dynamic patterns and skilled craftsmanship are part of “Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) through July 27. The exhibition of 58 distinctive quilts is the first to explore how, over five decades, artist and designer Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim acquired bold, eye-popping quilts that frequently echo the work of mid-Twentieth Century Abstract and Op artists. The exhibition not only looks at the quilts themselves, but also examines how color theory relates to their designs.

Pilgrim and Roy began collecting when they lived in California, and their lifelong passion for quilts led them to amass one of the finest collections in the world, numbering more than 1,200 examples from across the United States. Many were created by anonymous women from diverse communities stretching from Nineteenth Century Massachusetts and Amish and Mennonite Pennsylvania to Depression-era Missouri.

On view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery, each section of the exhibition, and the accompanying publication, is introduced by an abstract work of art — one painting and seven prints by artists such as Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely and Sol LeWitt — that offer a modern look at color theory.

At the entrance to the exhibition, museum visitors receive a color wheel to assist in appreciating and experiencing the exhibition’s color theory themes, such as vibration, gradation and contrast. In celebration of “Quilts and Color,” the museum is offering a wide range of programs as part of the “Season of Color.” Spotlight Talks — 15 minute talks with MFA staff in the galleries — highlight colorful works throughout the collection and will be held Wednesday evenings through June 25

Roy and Pilgrim met as students in 1963 at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Calif. Roy was heavily influenced by color theorist Josef Albers and the Bauhaus school in Germany — which emphasized the merging of fine art and craft — while attending The School of The Worcester Art Museum (1959–1962). After receiving their bachelor of arts degrees, both went on to receive their master of fine arts degrees at Mills College in Oakland (1965–1967).

As they began to acquire items for a gallery they opened in 1971, Pilgrim and Roy were struck by quilts, especially those that demonstrated sophisticated use of color and pattern and were reminiscent of Albers’s ideas from his seminal book, Interaction of Color, 1963. During a trip to Pennsylvania in the early 1970s, Pilgrim and Roy saw their first saw Amish quilt, and their reaction was, “What is a Josef Albers painting doing hanging on a clothesline?”

The collectors were at the forefront of recognizing quilts as art, and acquired outstanding examples as they traveled the country to visit fairs, flea markets and auctions, as well as meeting directly with dealers and quilters. Today, quilts are no longer simply seen as decorative bedcovers, women’s work or symbols of a colonial past — they are appreciated as works of artistic expression.

Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy were at the forefront of the recognition of quilts as art and Paul Pilgrim, who died in 1996, was also recognized as a quiltmaker in his own right.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is at 465 Huntington Avenue. For information, www.mfa.org or 617-267-9300.

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