Ken Burns, Filmmaker and Quilt Collector
If you’ve watched popular documentaries such as Jazz, Baseball, The Vietnam War and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, then you may know Ken Burns as a filmmaker. His highly acclaimed work is known the world over.
What you may not know is that Ken Burns is also a quilt collector. Some of his quilts are on exhibit for the first time at International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska through May 13. I’m lucky enough to live within a few hours’ drive and I visited last week.
Within the exhibit, the quotes from Burns are almost as wonderful as the quilts, and according to museum executive director Leslie Levy, they were all “off the cuff.” I’ll let them both tell the story.
“As a collector, I’m looking for something that reflects my country back at me. Quilts rearrange my molecules when I look at them. There’s an enormous satisfaction in having them close by. I’m not a materialist. There are too many things in the world, and we know that the best things in life aren’t things.
“Yet there are a few things that remind me of the bigger picture. We live in a rational world. One and one always equals two. That’s okay, but we actually want—in our faith, in our families, in our friendships, in our love, in our art—for one and one to equal three. And quilts do that for me.”
(Referring to the quilt above right) “It’s raw, and bold, and almost defiant. And yet it has a kind of order to it, and a peace. What better place to dream, than underneath this quilt?”
“Quilts are the art form that really excites me. The calculus in all art is that the effect of something is more than the individual materials that have gone into making it.”
“Quilts reward study. They can look great from 20 feet across the room, and then you get closer and there are little dramas. It doesn’t have to be intricate. It can be simple. It just has to be authentic.”
“My grandmother, when I was a little boy, made a big, huge, heavy quilt for me out of post-World War II sweaters and blankets and fabric. There’s no quilting in it, but she pieced it together, and I lived under it until it started to fall apart. My grandmother would say, ‘That was your father’s this, and that was your father’s that, and that was your grandfather’s this, and your uncle’s that, and this was my this.’ In some ways it was my trip around their world.”
“This was made in World War I. There’s something incredibly poignant and beautiful about the flag in a sea of crosses. They represent both the help that was given, but also the loss.”
“The person who made this knows a lot more than I know.”
And we’ll finish off with one of my favorite quilts from the exhibit. When you see this center…
…and then if you’d see these fabrics:
…you wouldn’t immediately realize that they’re part of the same quilt. But look.
Isn’t this utterly fabulous? I think it’s bold and fearless, and so graphic. I love it.
Isn’t that beautiful? And maybe these words from Ken Burns sum it up the best:
“I make films for other people;
I collect quilts for myself.”
Learn more about International Quilt Study Center & Museum.
Learn more about Ken Burns.