During the Roosevelt administration’s efforts to combat the Great Depression, the quilt became an emblem for how to lift one’s family out of poverty, piece by piece. A New Deal for Quilts explores how the U.S. government drew on quilts and quiltmaking, encouraging Americans to create quilts individually and collectively in response to unemployment, displacement, and recovery efforts. Quilters shared their perspectives on New Deal programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Recovery Administration, which sent quilts as gifts to the Roosevelts and other officials. Federal programs used quilts’ symbolic heft to communicate the values and behaviors individuals should embrace amid the Depression, perceiving the practical potential of crafts to lift morale and impart new skills. The government embraced quilts to demonstrate the efficacy of its programs, show women how they could contribute to their families’ betterment, and generate empathy for impoverished Americans.
With more than one hundred period photographs and images of quilts, A New Deal for Quilts evokes the visual environment of the Depression while conveying ways craft, work, race, poverty, and politics intersected during this pivotal era. Accompanying the book is a a fall 2023 and spring 2024 exhibit at the International Quilt Museum, featuring 1930s quilts drawn from its renowned collection.
About the Author
Janneken Smucker is a professor of history at West Chester University specializing in digital history and material culture. She is the author of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon. Janneken lectures and writes about quilts for popular and academic audiences and hosts Running Stitch: A QSOS Podcast, drawing on oral histories with quiltmakers.
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