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New York Beauty Quilts – Finding Inspiration in our Past

Last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend an opening reception at the San Jose Quilt Museum for its new exhibit; Collecting New York Beauty Quilts: Bill Volckening’s Passion. It was extraordinary.

Bill Volckening is a self described quilt magnet: he claims that great quilts find him, as if by a magnetic force. Although Bill did not start out having an interest in quilts, a girl he dated did. She invited him to a private quilt show in New York with quilt collector, Shelly Zegart. He instantly fell in love with the beloved New York Beauty pattern. That was in 1989.

The Volckening Collection now includes more than 250 quilts from the 18th to the 21st centuries. Bill has a wonderful blog, Willy Wonky Quilts and has written about the exhibit in San Jose.

I loved hearing the personal stories he shared related to the quilts in his collection. It was also extremely interesting to learn the trends that came and went through the years in regard to fabric choices, style of patterns, and techniques. But I will be honest with you, I spent most of the time mesmerized at how these beautiful quilts, some of which were circa the 1850’s and 1860’s, had such a graphic impact. They could pass as examples of today’s Modern Quilts.

I saw so many similar elements. There were chevrons; there were solids; and there were expansive backgrounds of white. Most did not display a secondary pattern in the design, just simple, beautiful, exquisite technique.

 I went to this exhibit expecting to enjoy a traditional piece of quilt history. I certainly didn’t expect to be inspired to push my skills even further into the realm of Modern Quilting–I was most definitely inspired.


Notice the quilting on this sunny yellow gem!


Love the lime green and pink pin dots!


Beautiful color combinations.


Teeny tiny points.


This is an interesting one. I love the squared-off points.

My absolute favorite in the collection.

I love this color combination–make a note of this, Pati.

Mad skills on these points!

Look how the points are turned in! So creative!

As always, I am in awe of what the quilters of yesteryear accomplished without the tools we have today.

Thank you, Bill, for inspiring me! And thank you for preserving such a precious piece of quilt history. The exhibit runs through October 27. If you are able to visit the San Jose Quilt Museum, you will be so happy you did. It is a really special exhibit.

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