Astronomical Quilts! Block Challenge Collection



05/08/2019 - 05/09/2019 9:00 am - 4:00 pm


Briscoe-Garner Museum


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UT Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History presents an exhibition of twenty-eight extraordinary pieces from its Astronomical Quilts! Block Challenge Collection. The quilts were created from blocks made in response to a challenge issued by the International Quilt Festival (IQF) in 2013. The challenge was inspired by a quilt block hand sewn by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg while serving aboard the International Space Station in 2013.

The IQF’s block challenge invited quilters from around the world to make and submit star-themed blocks to create
a single collaborative quilt for display at the 2014 International Quilt Festival in Houston. The response exceeded all expectations. Nearly 2,400 quilt blocks arrived in Houston, prompting volunteers from NASA and Quilts, Inc.
to join forces to assemble the blocks into these twenty-eight quilts in time for exhibition at the Festival. Two years later, IQF founders Karey Bresenhan and Nancy O. Puentes gifted this unique quilt collection to the Briscoe Center for permanent preservation and research. The quilts, plus related project documentation, are now part of the center’s Winedale Quilt Collection.
The blocks in these quilts are all different, each one an expression of individual artistry. As expected, astronomical- themed designs and fabrics dominate—stars are everywhere, and comets, rockets, planets, and galaxies abound, as do red, white, and blue color schemes and U.S. patriotic fabrics.

But there are many surprises as well—look for the blocks using camouflage fabric, featuring Elvis Presley, or that pay tribute to the Green Bay Packers football team. Close study of these quilts also reveals the wide range of sewing skills of the makers, the significant contribution of children, and blocks signed by men. The long date range of the many different prints and solids suggests that some quilters dipped into old fabric stashes while others grabbed remnants from a current project.

The universal appeal of this block challenge is made clear by identifying where the blocks were made. Most blocks are signed and dated, and many offer location information. The majority of the blocks were made in the United States, but many were sewn in Russia, possibly because Russian cosmonauts were aboard the International Space Station in 2013. Canada, Venezuela, Norway, Ireland, Mexico, Uruguay, South Africa, Japan, Scotland, Costa Rica, England, and Israel are among the many countries represented in the quilts.

Like the Astronomical Quilts! Block Challenge itself, this exhibit is dedicated to “everyone who dreams of stars.”


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