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Ken Burns quilt exhibit makes its only Southeastern stop at Greenville’s Upcountry History Museum

Ken Burns quilt exhibit makes its only Southeastern stop at Greenville's Upcountry History Museum
Ken Burns quilt exhibit makes its only Southeastern stop at Greenville's Upcountry History Museum
Ken Burns quilt exhibit makes its only Southeastern stop at Greenville's Upcountry History Museum

Most of us know Ken Burns the filmmaker and documentarian. But did you know about Ken Burns the quilt collector?

Presently on display at Upcountry History Museum in Greenville is Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection, an exhibition featuring 26 hand-sewn historic quilts from Burns’ personal collection.

The exhibition’s Greenville stop is the first time it has traveled and will be its only Southeastern showing, according to Jonathan Gregory, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, which organized the exhibition.

The quilts represent examples of early Americana while reflecting Burns’ love of history, America and her people, Gregory said. The collection includes an 1890 Triple Irish Chain quilt that was a wedding gift from mother to son, a 1918 Red Cross quilt sewn to raise money during World War I, a rare 1933 National Recovery Act quilt with the initials FDR and a classic Amish quilt.

There are quilts with tried-and-true patterns such as log cabin and applique and those with very fine, exquisite stitches.

“I think that what’s really interesting about this particular exhibition is the interspersing of the quilts and Ken Burns’ words,” Gregory said. “Listening to him speak about quilts and what they do for him, where they take him, he has the ability – not surprising because of his documentary work uncovering the past and sharing it with us – to take that same sort of eye to the quilts as he begins to think about who made them and what their life might have been like. Then, what they do for him on a very personal level. I think his words in this exhibition are just as important as the quilts.”

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The quilt industry in the United States is at least $4 billion and Upcountry History Museum officials are hoping that Uncovered resonates with an active Upstate quilting community.

“In doing the research leading up to this exhibition, to see how many guilds and quilting groups there are all over the country but especially in this region, we’re really hoping to connect with that community,” said Kristen Pace, the museum’s education and program manager. “This is a very unique opportunity to come out and see this rare collection of 26 hand-sewn, remarkable quilts that really tell the story of American history and it’s a different presentation of telling that story.”

For Kristina Hornbeck, the museum’s curator of collections, Uncovered represents a rare opportunity to connect with someone familiar and famous like Ken Burns on a personal level.

“He’s such a well-known individual and this is so very personal to him that you feel a special connection with him,” Hornbeck said. “He clearly picks things that mean much to him and the fact that he’s willing to share something that is so personal with the rest of the world is such an honor to be able to present it.”

Gregory said he believes it’s the personal nature of quilt-making that makes it such a popular pastime for so many.

“Quilts are very personal items. They can be very intimate. Many people remember quilts that were made by a mother, a grandmother or a great-grandmother, and those quilts often were given as gifts to other family members or passed down through the generations. So, quilts serve as a reminder and a connection with those, mostly female, ancestors.”

Uncovered is on display through January 30, 2022 at Upcountry History Museum, 540 Buncombe Street, Greenville. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Admission prices are: $10 for adults; $9 for senior adults (65+) and college students with valid ID; $8 for children ages 4 – 18; children 3 and under are admitted free.

For more information, call 864-467-3100 or visit upcountryhistory.org.

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