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   from the issue of March 13, 2008

Museum lands 'The Great Quilt' donation


A historic bicentennial quilt, "The Great Quilt," is being donated to the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.



The donation is being made for the March 30 opening of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum from the quilt originator and owners, Marilynn Gelfman Karp and Ivan C. Karp of the OK Harris Gallery, Works of Art in New York City.

The 1974 quilt was created with 48 red, white and blue fabric blocks designed and made by artists, friends and family of Marilynn Gelfman Karp and Ivan C. Karp. It was exhibited from 1974 to 1976 at OK Harris, Works of Art and at museums in New York and California and has not been seen publicly since. It will be on exhibit at the OK Harris Gallery at 383 West Broadway in the Soho district of New York City until March 21 before joining the permanent collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

The year 1974 was rich in art, inspiration and energy, and artists, curators, collectors and art world friends who participated in creating quilt blocks were just coming to prominence. Pop art, photorealism, abstraction, conceptual art and expressionism were all in vogue. Richard Artschwager, Robert Bechtle, Don Celender, John Clem Clarke, Robert Cottingham, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Duane Hanson, John Kacere, Richard McLean, Richard Pettibone, Jane Rosen, John Salt, Idelle Weber and Tom Wesselmann are among the artists who participated in the project. Curators Connie Glenn, Patterson Sims, David White, David Whitney and collectors Sydney and Frances Lewis and Al and Sondra Ordover made squares as did art dealers Jack Glenn and John Berggruen and other Karp friends whose interests were centered in the art world.

Marilynn Gelfman Karp is a sculptor, photographer and designer of wearable collections. She is also the author of "In Flagrante Collecto (Caught in the Act of Collecting)" and professor emeritus at New York University. Ivan C. Karp opened OK Harris Gallery, Works of Art in 1969, and he played a fundamental role in discovering and promoting, in his words, "the works of the best artists of our time."

More than two years before the nation's bicentennial, Marilynn Gelfman Karp gathered her circle of New York contemporaries in a remarkable celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States by creating a red, white and blue friendship quilt. In November 1973, she asked each of 60 friends and family members to create a red, white and blue fabric square on which to stitch a design or personal symbol for inclusion in this sampler quilt. She asked them to incorporate their family name into each block. Most took up the challenge, undaunted by the prospect of stitching. Forty-eight patches were completed by these friends, whose lives figured in the visual art galaxy of 1973-74.

By June 1974, all the squares destined for the quilt had been received for inclusion in the project. Young Yang Chung, then an NYU graduate student, now a world-class authority on Asian needle arts, embroidered the Karp square. Phyllis Alladice, a dressmaker, stitched together the squares, which were laid out by Gelfman Karp's visual determination rather than any other means of conceptual integration. Regina Philomena Wickham embellished the edges of the blocks and the quilt borders with different threads and different stitches in Victorian fashion. "The Great Quilt" was ready in November 1974, exactly a year from the time the letters of instruction were mailed, and it was shown at OK Harris Gallery Dec. 7-28, 1974.

"From the point of view of hindsight, 'The Great Quilt' seems an overreaching title, but in 1974, it seemed a great idea to get Ivan's and my friends and family together in a bicentennial artifact, a contemporary art friendship quilt, so that's what we called the exhibition," Gelfman Karp said.

"The Great Quilt" was donated to the International Quilt Study Center during a March 11 reception at the OK Harris Gallery. Patricia Crews, director of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, accepted the quilt on behalf of the museum.

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