Skip the navigation
Search the Exhibitions
Search the Exhibition Close the search box

Kaleidoscope:
Antique Quilts from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum

Date Sep 23, 2009 - Mar 21, 2010
Curated by Max Allen

Exhibition Overview

Quilts are like pages from a vast encyclopedia of textiles, with their abundance of fancy silks and homespun wools speaking across the ages.

The quilts in Kaleidoscope were made in the United States, Canada and England, mostly during the 19th century. They were used as bedding, as lap robes and slumber throws, and as fancy piano covers in Victorian parlours. Most of these quilts are now orphans, their makers unknown, their ancestry obscure. The social messages they carried when they were made – who made them and why, for whom and under what circumstances – have evaporated, leaving behind elaborate kaleidoscopes of colour.

Additional Information

Carole and Howard Tanenbaum are art collectors, and they acquired these quilts because of how they look – in other words, as art.

“The first quilt we saw that we couldn’t live without was a crazy quilt at an antique dealer’s store in Stratford,” says Carole Tanenbaum. “I love texture and I also love randomness and I was immediately attracted to it. "

“We never deliberately set out to have a quilt collection, but one year we bought one and then the next year we saw three we loved, and pretty soon there we were with a quilt collection.”

Related Programs and Events

Lecture: Collecting Quilts with Adrienne Hood
Wednesday March 10, 6:30 pm
Properly observed, a quilt can tell us a lot about its maker and user. A collection of quilts reveals even more. Textile expert, Adrienne Hood will explore the idea of quilts as historical objects. Hood is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto and was formerly a Curator of Textiles at the ROM.
Free for TMC Members and Full-time students, Non-members $12.
Advance tickets may be purchased in person at the TMC's front desk. Please arrive early, seating is limited.

March Break Drop-In Program: Quilting across the Generations
Monday March 15, Wednesday March 17, Friday March 19, 1:00 - 4:00 pm
Children and their care-givers are invited to draw inspiration from Kaleidoscope and design their own unique quilt. Children will create a quilt block to take home, or to leave at the museum to be displayed in fibrespace. For ages 7 and up.
Free with admission.


Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
View Collection Artifacts from this Exhibition

Related Video

Happenings
Antique Quilts

Max Allen, Curator, Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto: I'm Max Allen and I organized this show called Kaleidoscope at the Textile Museum of Canada. If your great-grandmother made quilts, she may have made them for two reasons. One was entirely practical. It was to keep people warm in bed. And the other one was as an artistic expression. A way for women to make their aesthetic judgements and make something beautiful for the home as well as practical.

All of these quilts were collected by two Toronto people, Carole and Howard Tanenbaum, who are art collectors. And they collected them on the basis of their appearance as art.

Some of them were made at home by a woman working by herself and some of them were made collectively. Women often got together in groups — a quilting bee — and all of them worked on the sewing of the quilt together. So it was a social event as well as an event of personal artistic expression.

In general there are two kinds of quilts. One of them is made like a jigsaw puzzle where little pieces of cloth are put together side by side and form patterns. And the other one is made like a painting where there's a uniform colour background and other patterns are appliquéd over the top of it.

Some of the quilts in this show are really mind-boggling. You look at them and you think, “How did she do that?”. This is a quilt made up of 5,955 little hexagons of silk all sewn together edge by edge. It's like if you had a jigsaw puzzle with 5,955 pieces, except these pieces are all exactly the same size and shape. This one is interesting in that there is a picture of Queen Victoria on it. And the portrait that it was copied from is in the Twickenham Museum in England and it was done when she was 23 years old.

Here's a quilt that was made from scraps of cloth leftover from clothing — men's and women's clothing in wool. And it was made in a way that there's a structure… a block structure…a gridwork which is regular. But within the individual blocks, anything goes. This is a quilt that was not planned to be a quilt. It was planned to be garments, but the leftover was used for the quilt.

The women who made these quilts were extraordinarily skilled needleworkers. When contemporary quilters come to this show, they say, “Oh! Look at that work.” And when people who don't know how much work it is see the show, they say, “This is really wonderful as works of art.” So I think that the show in general is a tribute to these women's skills.

Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
Quilt from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum (detail)
View Collection Artifacts from this Exhibition