The exhibit QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices Through Quilts provides a model for using material culture research to unearth the experiences of marginalized historical actors. Each of the forty quilts from the North Carolina Museum of History’s permanent collection displayed in QuiltSpeak—made by a racially and economically diverse selection of quilters from the past two hundred years—served as a portal into a woman’s life and a representation of her self-expression. Interactive elements empowered visitors to decode material culture themselves and connect their own experiences to the quiltmakers’. This article examines the exhibit’s conceptualization, development, and outcomes with the contention that heretofore unheard voices can often be discovered right under our proverbial noses.
QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices in the North Carolina Museum of History’s Permanent Collection
Diana Bell-Kite is curator of textiles and clothing at the North Carolina Museum of History. She curated the exhibit QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices Through Quilts (2019) and wrote its accompanying catalog. She has curated or co-curated multiple other exhibitions at NCMOH, including Everyday Artistry (2008), which spotlighted the hidden stories of utilitarian objects; The Story of North Carolina (2011), the museum’s centerpiece chronological history exhibit; and Made Especially for You by Willie Kay (2016), which chronicled the extraordinary career of North Carolina’s preeminent twentieth-century formalwear designer. Her research and publications address the experiences of southern women as revealed through material culture.
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Diana Bell-Kite; QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices in the North Carolina Museum of History’s Permanent Collection. The Public Historian 1 November 2021; 43 (4): 63–92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2021.43.4.63
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