Ever since Judy Schwender joined the National Quilt Museum as its curator, she has wanted to group the critter quilts together. She is finally getting her with with “Into the Wild: Quilted Creatures,” which opened yesterday.

The new exhibit features some of the best and most memorable animal quilts in the museum’s collection. One of Schwinder’s favorites is Javanese Jungle by Audree Sells. Designed in deep teals, orange and gold, it features an intricate applique pictorial scene.

Schwender loves the animals featured, the pelican, tiger and deer. But her favorite is the elephant, which when viewed from the side has a three-dimensional ear that sticks out from the quilt.

Another favorite is Sunbathing in Blue by Inge Mardal. The 60 x 80-inch quilt is designed from a photograph taken in nature and projected onto a piece of cloth. Mardal then outlined the features she wanted to highlight, painted the fabric and machine quilted it.

“The color you see in the final piece comes from the thread,” Schwender said. “This is really neat. The bird is probably 50 inches total and the whole background is black. The blue and yellow bird just pops.

“Somebody could paint that. But she did it in cloth.”
In fact, many of the National Quilt Museum’s visitors who are not quilters are often surprised that the pictorial quilts are made from fabric and thread and not a painter’s brush and canvas.

“Many of our visitors are not even quilters, they are cultural travelers,” Schwender said. “They come in, pay their fees and when they come out they say, ‘I can’t believe those are quilts. This should have been painted. But it’s not. It is cloth.”

The majority of the quilts in the National Quilt Museum’s collection were made after 1980. While that is pretty young in the quilt world, the decision to exclude antiques is deliberate, making a commitment to showcasing the work of today’s quilter. Javanese Jungle, shown at the top of this article, is one of the older quilts in the collection, having been completed in 1988.

“Into the Wild: Quilted Creatures” runs through April 7. For more information about the exhibit or to plan your trip to the National Quilt Museum, visit its website, www.quiltmuseum.org