Hopi Quilts Warm the Arizona State Museum

Jan. 14, 2012

The Arizona State Museum is indeed stately, elegant, and offers engaging and beautiful exhibits. The museum is also loads of fun with interactive experiences for families, guest lectures, and coffee with the curators.

Now we can also add a sense of warmth to the description of the University of Arizona’s premier cultural archive.

The Arizona State Museum’s newest exhibit, Hopi Quilts: Unique Yet Universal, presents 20 quilts from the 1970s to contemporary times. The exhibition showcases the best of the quilting tradition, tracing its rich aesthetic and historical development.

As Beth Grindell, director of the Arizona State Museum, and Carolyn O’Bagy Davis, guest curator describe via an online interview, “One of the most interesting aspects of the Hopi quilts is that wonderful blending of an Anglo tradition with Hopi imagery and ceremony. You might see a traditional Irish chain quilt with Hopi corn hand stitched into the solid setting blocks. Other quilts show traditional patchwork with clan designs of spiders, water or butterflies painted and stitched into the quilt.”

The size of the exhibition—just 20 quilts—invites the viewers to take their time to observe and contemplate: “The small size of the exhibit allows us to focus on some smaller pieces that would be lost in a large exhibit,” they say.

A Unique History and Tradition

From the 1880s on, both Hopi women and men have embraced quilting. Over the past century the craft has become a fixture in Hopi society. The Hopi have a long history of producing beautiful cotton and wool blankets, robes, belts and ceremonial sashes.

Traditionally, men were the weavers among the Hopi, with their looms set- up in kivas, or ceremonial chambers. Hopi women quilt for many of the same reasons as other women from different cultures—for wedding and baby gifts, for family use, for personal satisfaction, and sometimes, for sale. While many typical American quilt patterns are evident—“crazy quilt,” “log cabin,” “nine-patch”—a uniquely Hopi aesthetic is expressed with katsina or butterfly imagery, as well as with pottery and basketry motifs.

Hopi Quilts: Unique Yet Universal

The layout of the exhibition is designed to emphasize the creativity that the quilts display, as well as their design influences. For example, visitors will see quilts blended into already existing exhibits. The gallery holding the quilts is right next to a display on Hopi origins, history and life ways. And some of the quilts with traditional Hopi motifs appear right next to the objects that influenced their design.

Whether you’re looking to warm your soul in the cold this winter or wishing for rains for the summer to come, the time is right to experience Hopi Quilts.

The exhibition runs from January 21 through August 20, 2012.