The Quilts of Ken Burns in 360


KEN BURNS: As a hobby,
I have pursued collecting what I think is
the cleanest, simplest, and most authentic expression
of who we are as a people. ♪ Light ethereal piano music ♪ NARRATOR: Ken Burns
began collecting quilts in the early 1970’s. This exhibit marks
the first time he’s publicly
shared his quilts. There are 28 on display along with quotes from Burns about his profound
connection to quilts. This 1918 Red Cross quilt was
made by the Williamsport Grange to raise money for the
Red Cross during the
first world war. KEN BURNS: There’s something incredibly poignant and beautiful that the flag exists in a sea of crosses, which both represents all of
the help that is being given, but also represents
the loss of it. ♪ Light ethereal piano music ♪ NARRATOR: The letters NRA
on this quilt stand for the National Recovery
Administration, a government program created during the Great Depression by President
Franklin Roosevelt. The president’s initials
are embroidered at the top. And, the year the
recovery act was passed is stitched at the bottom. NARRATOR: The eagle was an
emblem American companies displayed to show
their compliance with the recovery act. On the floor display,
there’s a quilt called The Star of Temperance. It’s a rare and important
quilt as it states the virtues of the temperance movement: love, purity, and fidelity. This quilt also demonstrates
how women used fabric to express their voice. The dye used to color the
stars has weakened the fabric over time leaving
holes in the material. Because of its
fragile state, this quilt is displayed
on a platform. ♪ Light ethereal piano music ♪ Ken Burns collects
only hand sewn quilts. And, the ones
featured in the gallery, date from the
1850’s to the 1940’s. This mint condition Triple
Irish Chain was a wedding gift from a mother
to her son in 1890. The original wedding
license was included with the quilt when
Burns acquired it. It may be surprising to learn that Burns isn’t interested in the provenance of a quilt, but if there is a history
connected to one he acquires, he does record it. Occasionally, Burns
will acquire a quilt that goes against his color palate of red, white, and blue. This quilt is called
New York Beauty, and features a blend of the colors yellow, red, and blue. KEN BURNS: If you just
isolated what’s happening there. It’s gray anchored
by these diamonds, anchored by these stars. There’s something
ferocious about this. And, also something
really lovely. ♪ Light ethereal piano music ♪ NARRATOR: The work of a
master seamstress can be seen in this piece
from the 1860’s called The Sunburst Quilt. Featuring a variety of
materials and soft hues, the diamond shaped blocks
are cut and sewn on
the fabric bias. The near perfect intersection
of every point draws your eye inward to the 16-point star
in the quilt center. Accuracy and
aligning the diamonds is the mark of a
master quilt maker. In many ways, the quilts
Ken Burns collects reflect his work as
America’s storyteller: skillfully crafted
in patriotic colors created in painstaking detail over an extended
period of time. ♪ Music fades out ♪