Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War

June 30, 2012 – November 25, 2012

Homefront and Battlefield


The American Textile History Museum (ATHM) is contributing to the nationwide conversation on the sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War (1861-65) through Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War, an intriguing and absorbing look at the most divisive period in American history.

When civil war broke out in America, the very fabric of life was altered. ATHM showcases this pivotal period in American history through a new lens, reflecting the personal sacrifice, heroism, mourning and reconciliation that changed the course of our country.

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The quilt and its story are placed in a broader context through the use of textile-related artifacts, relevant images (including paintings, photographs, prints, and ephemera), and quotations from diaries and letters. Each object represents a deeply moving and insightful personal story, from the noose reportedly used to hang abolitionist John Brown to a mother’s quilt stitched with the uniforms of her two sons, one who fought in Confederacy gray and the other in Union blue.

Over a period of three years, guest curators Lynne Bassett and Madelyn Shaw identified and selected more than 150 artifacts and graphic reproductions to be included in the exhibition, as well as authored an accompanying book.  The book earned an international Independent Publisher Book award.

According to the authors’ introduction to the Homefront & Battlefield book: “The project is intended to encourage visitors to view the war not in isolation or through stereotypes and simplifications, but in its complicated and uneasy place in the context of American history. Through a wealth of artifacts drawn from around the nation, each with a strong provenance and embodying project themes, audiences will be able to see and acknowledge the human experiences beneath the veneer of Blue and Gray.”

Homefront & Battlefield connects deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war with the broader national context and history and examines how textiles were both an expression of and a motivating force behind American politics and culture during the Civil War.

Following its run at ATHM in Lowell, MA, the exhibit traveled throughout the country. Destinations included the New-York Historical Society, New York, NY, April 4 – August 31, 2014; Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT, September 20, 2014 – January 1, 2015; and the Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE, February 1, – June 30, 2015.

The accompanying book is available for sale in ATHM’s online shop.

Funding for Homefront & Battlefield was provided in part by grants from The Coby Foundation, with additional support from Mass Humanities and the Stockman Family Foundation .

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