an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Ken Burns, Collector, Gets An Exhibition

There’s nothing like a celebrity, even a person behind the camera instead of in front of it, to attract attention–sometimes even deservedly so. I think that is the case for an exhibition opening Friday, Jan. 19, at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.  “Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection” will display 28 quilts to the public for the first time, drawn from his collection of about 75.

I interviewed Burns for the “Show Us Your Wall” feature that runs in the Weekend section of The New York Times on Fridays. In the resulting piece, headlined Don’t Tell Ken Burns Quilts Are Quaint and set to run in tomorrow’s paper, he explains how he collects and why, along with commenting on his favorite quilt and another very striking one (see them at the Times link).

For the Study Center, he also said this:

As a collector, I’m looking for something that reflects my country back at me. Quilts rearrange my molecules when I look at them. There’s an enormous satisfaction in having them close by. I’m not a materialist. There are too many things in the world, and we know that the best things in life aren’t things. Yet there are a few things that remind me of the bigger picture.

We live in a rational world. One and one always equals two. That’s okay, but we actually want—in our faith, in our families, in our friendships, in our love, in our art—for one and one to equal three.

And quilts do that for me.

That’s a pretty difficult task he has set for articles of vernacular art, but in some ways the second paragraph might apply more broadly to all art. We want art to move us in a new direction, provide missing perspective, help us see things differently. Don’t we?

The Quilt Study Center is well-known among Americana experts, quilt fans and people in its region. Burns brings it to the attention of a greater audience, and I was happy to help do that. There’s more art in the U.S. than just that on the coasts, a narrow stripe down the Midwest and a few places in Texas.



  1. Barbara Chalsma says

    I have a stack of quilts (without a machine stitch on any of them) made in the 19th century by my Ohio great-grandmother, who was born in Germany. The one I cherish above all is in a tumbling block pattern and made from scraps of cloth from her six children’s clothes (which she also sewed). In their very old age, I knew four of those six “children”. The quilt keeps them with me.

an ArtsJournal blog