Curator Stacy C. Hollander talks to NYC-ARTS about the work “Crazy Quilt” by Clara Leon, which is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.

View Transcript

Next, we'll visit the American Folk Art Museum located right across the street from our Lincoln Center Studios.

Since 1961, this museum has been showcasing the creativity of artists whose talents have been refined through personal experience rather than formal artistic training.

Its collection includes more than 8,000 works of art from four centuries and nearly every continent.

Curator Stacy Hollander recently talked with 'NYC-Arts' about one of the artworks from the museum's collection.

The American Folk Art Museum has one of the most important collections of quilts in the country, and one of our most significant recent acquisitions is a Crazy Quilt that was made by a woman named Clara Leon.

Clara Leon was an immigrant from Germany, one of the thousands of Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in the second half of the 19th century.

She landed in New York City, met her husband, Pincus Leon, and the two of them moved to the New Mexican territories, to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The quilt that Clara Leon made, probably in the 1880s, reflects the idiom of the Crazy Quilt.

This was a kind of construction that was introduced after the American Centennial Exposition that introduced Japanese decorative arts to American audiences for the first time.

So, women saw porcelains with crazed and crackled surfaces and glazes and exotic motifs like spiderwebs and quarter fans, and they very quickly introduced this new aesthetic into their quilt making.

So Clara Leon, one of 36 Jewish families in the pioneer frontier community of Las Vegas, New Mexico, coming to America without a tradition of quilt making at all, and interpreted and adapted the Crazy Quilt to reflect this new aesthetic that was introduced at the Japanese pavilion of the Philadelphia Centennial.

The center of the quilt is emblazoned with a large letter 'L' for her family name, Leon.

Also included is a musical staff and notes, and this reflects the musical background of her family.

In fact, one of the family's stories is that when Clara and her family made the journey by covered wagon, included onboard the covered wagon was her piano.

Aesthetically, she did something with the borders that's unusual.

There is a floral band on each side of the quilt, and typically this would be identical top, bottom, left, right.

But in fact, she's reflecting the seasons.

So there are autumn leaves, spring flowers, summer daisies, and winter sprays.

Quilts have always been a medium for women to express their own thoughts and their own participation in American life.

And Clara Leon clearly took that to heart when she decided what motifs and what techniques were going to be used in her beautiful quilt.

♪♪ ♪