By KATHLEEN SHAW
Daily News-Record 8/11/20
For 25 years, Virginia Quilt Museum has attracted international craft lovers to Harrisonburg with a diverse range of both locally crafted and globally revered quilt-related collections of art.
In an era of isolation and closed borders, Virginia Quilt Museum is celebrating its silver anniversary this month with several online activities and a new collection of textiles for locals to explore.
Sandy Maxfield is on the board of directors and has volunteered for over four years working the front desk, sharing her knowledge and fascination of quilts with guests. After closing the museum for the first few months of the pandemic, Maxfield said the return of guests has been slow but seemingly local- focused, with nearby residents reconnecting with the exhibits.
“It’s been slow progress, but we’re definitely seeing people rediscover us and come in,” she said. “We have seen more local and regional people discerning we’re open, and it’s a good place for a day trip.”
Taking to social media, the museum began extending virtual quilt turning, quilting challenges, workshops and posts outlining the history behind quilts to those who cannot venture to see the displays in person.
Executive Director Susan Farmer said the museum began extending the online learning features such as posting videos of quilt turning pieces from the permanent collection to maintain an outlet for quilting fans.
“We started doing that while we were closed, and it was a way to keep people engaged with the museum and still give folks access to the collection even though we were closed,” she said. “It shows the artistic and historic importance of these pieces of work.”
Instead of merely supplementing visits with internet learning, the museum’s
resources work harmoniously to provide context to both exhibited work and quilting culture broadly.
Since reopening, the newest exhibition on display is “Eye Contact: Creating a Connection” in galleries A and B, which features panels of eyes gazing directly at the viewer. On the museum’s website, a video of curator Barbara Hollinger is posted alongside the show’s description and details.
In the video, Hollinger said the show was inspired by society’s loss of connection between individuals, so by forcing eye contact, the show’s purpose is to rekindle humanity between strangers.
“If you actually stop, lift your head and look somebody in the eye, whether you agree with them or disagree with them, whether you know them or not, there’s an instant psychic ... connection. There’s a little spark of life that flips between each other,” Hollinger said in a video posted by the Quilt Alliance.
Farmer said the exhibition feels additionally relevant now that everyone’s lower face is obscured by masks and eyes are the main focus and means of communicating silent emotion.
“It’s just several panels of eyes, like quilted eyes, and I feel it’s timely because that’s all we get to see of each other now that we’re wearing masks,” Farmer said. “How can we still connect even though we’re wearing masks and having to be socially distant?”
The Greek revival- style Warren-Sipe House that the museum calls home is also a work of historic art itself. Dating back to 1855, the structure previously served as a hospital for Civil War soldiers, the site of Harrisonburg’s Parks and Recreation Department in the mid- 1960s and even headquarters for the Harrisonburg- Rockingham Historical Society in 1978.
Since this year’s opening day on Feb. 18, exhibits such as “Rescue, Repair, Recycle, Reinvent” and “No Fabric/ No Rules” have decorated the museum’s walls, challenging contemporary notions of quilting. Upcoming on the gallery calendar is “Backyard Escape,” which will join the museum on Sept. 8.
To ensure physical distancing between visitors, the museum created a guest
flow plan with visible markers that separate individuals by 6 feet and is providing sanitation stations, requiring masks for volunteers and staff members and installing a sneeze guard at the shop register.
Colorful fabric masks are also available for sale in the museum gift shop.
On Wednesday, American Quilter’s Society certified appraiser Pam Pampe is offering a virtual lecture on determining a quilt’s history from when and where it was made through analyzing fabrics, color techniques and patterns. This Saturday, Maxfield is leading a virtual sashiko embroidery workshop. On Aug. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m., Haymarket Quilters Unlimited member Betty Ratliff will discuss her experiences as a quilter and share her collection of over 50 quilts at Asbury United Methodist Church.
“ You don’t have to be a quilter to appreciate the art and the craft and the history of the quilts and the exhibits, just like you don’t have to be a painter to enjoy an art museum,” Maxfield said.
Located at 301 S. Main St., visitors are welcome inside on Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.