The Piece by Piece: Quilts from the permanent collection exhibit is in the Diverse Voices gallery of McKissick Museum, located at the end of the Horseshoe. The gallery focuses on folklife and traditional arts, and this year's exhibit includes over 40 quilts with hundreds of years of history stitched into every fabric.
Every August, a new exhibit takes over the Diverse Voices gallery. This past August, the Piece by Piece exhibit replaced a 19th-century pottery exhibit.
In total, the exhibit will feature over 40 quilts over the course of three iterations. Saddler Taylor, curator of folklife and fieldwork at McKissick Museum, said the exhibit is separated into three iterations because of limited space and the fragile nature of the quilts, as some of them date as far back as 1850. In December, the second iteration of quilts will be rotated into the exhibit, and the last iteration will be displayed in March.
The quilts have been acquired through donations and auctions over the years and belong to McKissick Museum’s permanent collection. In 1983, McKissick began a project revolving around quilts. The project gave families the opportunity to donate quilts that hold historical value purposes.
This project spanned across all of South Carolina’s 46 counties, and people brought their quilts to various locations where they were documented. A McKissick tag was sewn on the back of each quilt for tracking purposes. Many of the quilts featured in Piece by Piece originate from this project.
“We still get calls to this day from people that find quilts in yard sales, online,” Taylor said. “They’ll buy it or they’ll get it and they’ll turn it over and see that tag on it from thirty years ago and they’ll call.”
Taylor said he wanted to focus on was the narrative behind the makers of the quilts. However, since the majority of the quilts displayed in the first iteration are from the 19th century, he has found it difficult to articulate their history because of the lack of documentation.
“These quilt-makers had lives just like we have lives,” Taylor said. “A lot of them had struggles and tragedies. A lot of them had joys and triumphs, too. That’s what I try to communicate.”
In every iteration, there are around five or six known quilters.
Piece by Piece is open to the public during McKissick Museum’s normal business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The exhibit is designed to be walked at one’s own pace, but tours are also offered for those who are interested in getting a more in-depth experience of the makers of the quilts and the history it entails.
“We get a lot of people that come from the visitor’s center, which is downstairs,” Taylor said. “We get a lot of tours from students that are in classes that might relate to the topic.”
The Piece by Piece: Quilts from the Permanent Collection exhibit will be up through July 2020.