…These wartime quilts are incredibly rare, and Gero states in the release that “there are fewer than one hundred of these quilts in the world, and no two are alike.” War and Pieced highlights their diversity, whether in the distinctive beadwork on quilts made by soldiers stationed in India in the 19th century, or the motifs of African shields and spears embroidered on a late 19th-century quilt, likely made in tribute to those killed in the Anglo-Zulu War. A quilt made in India between 1860 and 1870 has its beads connected to small circles of fabric, the discs probably left over from punching buttonholes into uniforms. Although the conflict may be unnamed on the quilt, the patterns, needlework, and, above all, uniform materials, can place these fabric works in time.
They’re moving relics of the bloody battles that stretched across the globe in the mid-18th to 19th centuries, from the Prussian and Napoleonic wars, when elaborate intarsia quilts featured pictorial inlays of soldiers, to the Crimean War with its dense geometries. One from that mid-19th-century engagement has a checkerboard at its center, an example of the boards made from scraps of military uniforms to fend off boredom. The spare fabric that formed the checkerboard may have been from uniforms of the dead or wounded, thus adding a somber memorial to an otherwise vibrant wool quilt.
Although there is a vision of hope in making something beautiful out of horror, there’s an eerie echo of the suturing of wounds in each stitch of the quilt. The intense labor of some of those made in convalescence — one from 1890 involves 25,000 blocks, hexagons, and diamonds — represents the incredible amount of time these men spent recovering. Viewed together, the quilts in War and Pieced are haunting reminders of the lives given and maimed in the British Empire’s global conquest, and those that continue to be lost to war.
Following the exhibition’s run in New York, it will travel to the Nebraska museum and open May 25, 2018. You can see and read much more at Hyperallergic.
These amazing works remind me of Ernest Thesiger’s effort, after World War I, to help disabled soldiers to make a living with embroidery.