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These interpretive pieces explore the role of quilts during the Great Depression.

Florence Peto, Quilt Expert

Florence Peto (1881-1970) was a renowned quilt authority who played matchmaker between great quilts and museums, lectured with a flip-chart of patterns, and talked about quilts on WNYC radio shows. She owned the quilt that this rendering from the Index of American Design presents....

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Quilts in Temporary Homes

In the final month before I set aside my book manuscript to start teaching, I’ve been immersed in the Farm Security Administration’s Migratory Labor Camps, federally funded temporary communities designed a radical experiment in democracy during the New Deal. Among the standard amenities were...

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Is that a painting of a quilt?

Administrators of the Federal Arts Project, a program of the WPA that employed out-of-work artists, aimed to create a systematic catalog of inspirational quilts and numerous other folkart objects, through the Index of American Design (IAD). Rather than take black and white photographs of...

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Thrift and style

A cheerful pastel pieced Broken Star quilt shows how a quiltmaker could execute a pattern with clear inspiration from the literature celebrating “colonial”-style quilts while drawing on the Depression era values of thrift and reuse. The pattern, a favorite during the 1930s that consumers...

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The Quilting Bee and New Deal Collectivism

In the early years of the New Deal, some federal administrators aimed to develop experiments in cooperative living and farming. In 1933 the government established the Federal Subsistence Homesteads Corporation, which created subsistence farm homestead communities. The FSA sponsored cooperative loans for its clients...

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Migrant Grandmother

Dorothea Lange, perhaps the most famous FSA photographer, took the most iconic Great Depression photograph, known as “Migrant Mother,” which along with the plight of the Joad family depicted in John Steinbeck’s 1939 The Grapes of Wrath, made the migrant families now working in...

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Pie Town

In 1940, Russell Lee ventured to Pie Town, New Mexico, to conduct what his Farm Security Administrator supervisor Roy Stryker called a “small town study.”  Stryker sought to capture the regional differences of what he called the “American institution” of  the small town, including...

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Laura Wheeler Encourages Thrift

While many design companies published and sold mail order quilt patterns through newspaper columns, Laura Wheeler patterns were particularly popular because they encouraged the use of scraps and creative thrift, acknowledging that making a quilt an economical way was desirable. These regularly occurring features...

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A Colonial Quilting Party, for Children

In 1937 the School District of Philadelphia offered a line drawing of an old fashioned quilting bee as a coloring sheet in its Bulletin for Teachers for grade 4, which provided source material for studying the “colonial people.” Of the colonial woman, the Bulletin...

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Harry Kaplan Makes a Quilt

Interestingly, photographers did not only feature women with quilts. Here Russell Lee posed Harry Kaplan, a previously unemployed garment worker, with his quilt assembled from scraps of suiting at the garment factory in  Jersey Homestead, a cooperative established as part of New Deal to...

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