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The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles

By Christina Holland

San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles
110 Paseo de San Antonio
San Jose, California 95112
(408) 971-0323
10am-5pm Tuesday - Sunday, open 'til 8pm Thursdays, closed Mondays
Free on the 1st Thursday of every month

Shortly after I arrived at San Jose's Museum of Quilts and Textiles, I found that I had violated one of the cardinal rules of museum visits: call ahead to find out what's scheduled for that day.

I'd been there only a few minutes when they arrived. About thirty or forty teenage boys and girls and their somewhat frantic chaperones, clearly on an involuntary expand your cultural horizons kind of field trip. It made my visit more interesting, but probably less fun, than it would otherwise have been. Which is too bad, because the museum is a pretty neat place.

The web site for the museum, http://www.sjquiltmuseum.org/ , declares it to be "America's 1st Quilt Museum, Since 1977." I don't know exactly how they arrived at that, since I can think of a few other museums that could vie with them for the title. For example, the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History opened in 1964 and has a textile exhibit featuring 50,000 items including many quilts (http://www.si.edu/nmah/youmus/ex29text.html ). So don't let "America's 1st Quilt Museum" get your expectations up too high. It's a small museum that features rotating exhibits. If you keep your expectations within bounds, though, it's quite worth visiting, and a pleasant antidote for all the techiness of the surrounding Silicon Valley.

If you go to San Jose and want to visit the museum, your first challenge, I'm afraid, is to find the place. It's on Paseo de San Antonio, downtown, which is a pedestrian mall a few blocks long. I'm going to digress to give you basic directions, because I grew up in San Jose and I still got lost. San Antonio runs parallel to and between Santa Clara and San Carlos streets, starting at the Cesar de Chavez Park and ending at San Jose State University. The museum is just a little bit east of the San Jose Repertory Theater.

Once you arrive (having learned from my mistake and called ahead), you'll find the admission very reasonable: $4, or $3 for seniors or students. It's not a large place - you probably needn't allow more than an hour or two, depending on the exhibit. When I was there last month, it was "Go Figure! Cloth Dolls and Figurative Quilts."

"Go Figure!" was certainly very interesting. It was a fairly small exhibit, perhaps thirty-five items in all, in essentially one room. Which made for an interesting mix. There were some very serious pieces, such as Judith Moores' "Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman," a strikingly detailed figure overlaid on a log cabin quilt, made in tribute to the 75th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. Or "Woman and Cat," by Deidre Scherer, made in memory of her cat Rosie, companion for 20 years.

Several of the works displayed were memories captured in cloth. "Mother grew up in Canada", by Nancy S. Brown, is a smallish wall-hung quilt featuring three children riding on the back of a very realistic moose. Ruth B. McDowell's "Blueprint for an Ancient Implement" looks very like a photograph, of two small children (the guide says they are Margaret and Leah) digging at the beach with a clam shell. Another quilt of extreme realism is "Daniel and Grandpa" by Ann Gail Peterson, which was based on a photo.

Mixed in with all of that, though, were some fairly lighthearted pieces. I especially liked "Orbitting Zenith" and "Zenith"'s two companion pieces by Emily Owens. Zenith is a dog. A large, yellow dog with his tongue hanging out and his leash leading back to his human, who's mostly confined to a wall hanging. There're quotes attributed to each in the exhibit guide they gave me when I came in. The woman says "When walking, I prefer my blue shoes." Zenith says "Ruff ruff. Let's go."

Or then there was the rather large and enigmatic purple guy sitting in the middle of the room, an untitled work. Or "Regal Bird," number 15 in a series of 25 such bird people, each with a different costume, by Nancy Laverick. I was strangely drawn to "Regal Bird." It's a small figure, 24 inches high, but I think the combination of the somewhat stylized bird head and the ornately detailed burgundy robe reminded me of some of Jim Henson's creations.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit to San Jose's Museum of Quilts and Textiles very much. Probably much more than most of the kids who were there with me. Hopefully some of them were impressed by it, although too cool to say so in front of their friends, and will visit again. I wouldn't mind going again, myself. I have a feeling that on less crowded days it'd be a great place to hang out and relax for a while, and to find an inspiration or two.

Editor's note: below are photos of some of the quilts mentioned in the review above. Photos of Ruth B. McDowell's "Blueprint for an Ancient Implement," which originally appeared here, have been removed at the request of the artist, who claims that their display violates her copyright.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.


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