Who is American? Skirball exhibition in L.A. answers the question with quilts
Erika E. Smithson, a member of the Skirball Cultural Center’s board of directors, has said that the center “is so committed to preserving American culture that we are proud to host the Skirball International quilt exhibition.” Yet, a few days after the opening of the exhibition, Erika Smithson made a curious statement: “I would like to make a distinction between Skirball, who were our guest artists, and who represent the U.S., and the exhibition, which is American.”
This is no small distinction, for the exhibit is the first of its kind and one that makes us think about our country’s cultural life in an entirely new way. It is also a cultural event that is not only important to the visitors of Los Angeles but also to those of other cities across the globe.
The exhibit covers all aspects of the U.S. quilts but is also dedicated to quilts from other parts of the world, giving an overview of the process of making American quilts. This is evident from the introduction, which begins with an interview with a quilter from China:
In an interview with the International Quilt Study Club on the history of Asian quilts, Margaret Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, San Diego, and now a member of the American Quilters Association (AQA), spoke about the evolution of her mother’s family. Her mother’s family, who migrated to the U.S. from Fujian province in China, were “very poor,” Wang recalled, and they came to the U.S. with one suitcase each. They arrived in San Diego and sold their old lives in China for what she calls “a few hundred dollars,” to pay for a bus ticket, a hotel room and a little food, even though they knew next to nothing about the U.S. She recalled being taught English by two little girls who came from China. One taught her the alphabet and the other taught her the word “tent.” Her mother learned “just a little bit