I’m always skeptical of any kind of media about the Amish. They’re a community that doesn’t take photos or video, so if you see those things then it’s hard to believe they’re real. But the photo above is a shot (likely taken without their permission) of a barn raising in Ohio that I know is real because my dad was invited to it. Image source.
There’s another news article online that had many more photos:
Note: this image comes from the DeYoung museum’s website (linked to below)
I went to a talk yesterday at the JCCSF about Amish Quilts. There is a collection of classic Amish Quilts on display here in San Francisco at the DeYoung Museum. The collection is a private collection from a couple named Faith and Stephen Brown who started collecting these quilts back in the 1970’s. The talk was from a docent of the museum who wanted to share a little bit of information about the quilts to entice people to come see the display. It turned out, however, that the Browns were in the audience at this small event and answered a lot of questions for the group.
I have to admit that I didn’t learn a lot about the Amish people from this talk which I think is why most people were there. It’s always a little bit weird to me to hear people speak about the Amish. That’s because my father does a big portion of his business with the Amish community and so he has given me a little bit of the inside scoop on this interesting community. I don’t know all that there is to know but I know enough to know that most of what the people in our society say about the Amish isn’t accurate.
That happened at the lecture. For example, the quilts that we were looking at were from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century so the talk addressed the question of whether or not the Amish people still make quilts today. They do and they actually do a lot of business selling these quilts to tourists. A lot of the talk at this lecture about how the Amish aren’t really entrepreneurial in spite of this struck me as inaccurate. So I took all that was said about the Amish with a grain of salt.
What I didn’t learn about the Amish was made up for by the fact that I learned a lot about quilting in general and Amish quilting in particular. We looked at images of the quilts that are on display at the DeYoung. I learned that there are several different quilting patterns that were common between 1880 and 1940 (the period of time considered to be the Classic era of Amish quilts). We looked at different quilting stitches that were common and we looked at different patterns (sunshine and shadow, ocean waves …) that were also common.
It was so fascinating to see how these Amish quilts took these basic stitches and patterns and turned them into entirely unique pieces of art. I guess I always thought that quilts were just kind of old pieces of fabric that were sewn together. However that’s not true. What we looked at today were a series of quilts that implemented really interesting patterns into their design. They were symmetrical and organized and well-planned in spite of the fact that they were made with scraps. Many had amazing geometric designs that looked almost like Tetris-style computer art.
According to the people who were speaking at the lecture today, the quilts that the Amish people are making today differ a lot from the quilts that they made during the Classic period. It’s not just that the materials are different. It’s that the Amish community now creates these quilts in a sort of manufactured way (minus the machinery), trying to get as much completed as possible in order to make sales to tourists. I have a feeling that some of them are still making those elaborate soul-filled quilts in their own homes, though; they just don’t share them with the rest of us.
I have just finished reading an interesting book called Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish. It’s one of those books that is really simple and quick to read but which takes a little bit of time to digest. I’m not even really sure that I liked the book exactly although I did think it was thought-provoking.
The story is a first-person tale of a female artist who fell in love with the “folk art” of the Amish community. She decided to pursue this interest by working her way into the hearts and homes of a small group of Amish people. The story is her story of the experience of living temporarily with this group of people and what she learned from doing so.
I’m not sure that I liked the book per se. I got the impression that either the facts of the story were exaggerated or the truth was played with a bit or maybe things just weren’t explained clearly enough to make them seem believable. I’m not saying that the author was lying but that a lack of direct truth was conveyed in the writing somehow.
Despite this, I do think that the concept of the book is interesting. It’s basically a look at how many of us in modern society idealize a simpler way of life and think that its what we want. Indeed, we do want parts of it – the sense of community and the appreciation of daily tasks – but we don’t truly want to give up our modern lives. The book looks at how to combine the best of both worlds if that’s possible. Interesting and worth a quick read to see what you think of it.