This crazy quilt called America

The quilt exhibit on display at the Park Avenue Armory. The quilt exhibit on display at the Park Avenue Armory.

People move to America in order to become what they want. After all, individual freedom is the essence of the supposed American Dream. That is made clear at an exhibit of quilts on view until Wednesday at the Park Avenue Armory, which was built to honor the first regiment that answered Lincoln's call when the Civil War began 150 years ago.

On display are 651 stunning red and white quilts loaned by Joanna Rose to the American Folk Art Museum. The wife of Daniel Rose, one of New York's most high-minded philanthropists and well-respected real estate developers, she began collecting quilts in 1957. They have never been exhibited in a single space like this.

A gala was held on the eve of the exhibit's opening last Friday. Among those present was Richard Parsons, most recently the CEO of Time Warner. That Parsons is black says plenty about how much things have changed in the corporate world.

Those who came out for the gala stretched across the professions and our highly diverse population. These people seemed to highlight and complement the imaginative and varied designs of quilts that capture our nation's entire history. Indeed, the quilts reminded many of their backgrounds and cultural heritage, especially since quilts have been central to various cultures that are today quintessentially American, no matter how far apart they once seemed.

Quilts became popular in the 19th century, when American women sewed the swatches of material into a wide variety of forms and geometrical shapes. Though many quilts existed solely for household use, many others were made in support of abolition and to fund Civil War troops.

Glimpsing their quality today makes clear how superior these quilts are to most nonobjective modern painting. The best are intricate and brilliant in the way that jazz is, a refined musical form too often overshadowed by shallow entertainment, insipid trends and academic pretension.

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