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Ohio Amish quilts getting their day in the spotlight

A new exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles features a stunning selection of Antique Amish Ohio quilts from the Darwin D. Bearley Collection. The quilts will be on display through March 2015.

Antique Ohio Amish Quilts from the Darwin D. Bearley Collection, including more than 40 bed, crib and doll quilts, illustrating the breadth of the Ohio Amish quilt making tradition between 1880 and 1940, are on display at the San Jose Quilt Museum. The strong graphics and vivid color combinations of these quilts have inspired artists and quilt makers since they were first seen outside the Amish community.

Darwin D. Bearley of Akron, Ohio, was in the right place at the right time.
He began collecting quilts in Ohio in the early 1970s and quickly converted his interest

Log cabin quilt

Log Cabin, Light & Dark Variation, c. 1880-90 Unknown maker Wool

into a business. The “quilt dealer” was a new profession in the early 1970s, but as the demand for quilts grew among collectors and quilt enthusiasts, Bearley was at the forefront. He traveled all over the Midwest to seek out the best quilts, often knocking on doors of Amish homes where he knew or had heard there might be quilts, offering the highest prices for them.

Most importantly, he had the foresight to keep some of his rarest finds for his personal collection, and visitors to the exhibit will have the pleasure of seeing how a small group of Amish women created, over a period of only about 50 years, a powerful body of work that reflects their culture and aesthetics.

Three galleries are filled with stunning examples of block patterns favored by the Ohio Amish, including Log Cabins, Roman Stripe, Nine Patch and Ocean Waves. All these quilts exemplify the hallmark of the Ohio Amish style – the use of small brightly colored pieces, showcased against dark backgrounds. They further illustrate that their makers had an intuitive sense of color and understood how to manipulate hue and value to achieve sparkle and glow.

“Plain” quilts, a more subtle artistic expression than the colorful pieced quilts, consist of a large expanse of a solid fabric with a contrasting border. Amish are known for their exquisite hand quilting and the plain quilts are filled with complex feathered wreaths and cable designs.

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