The New York Quilt Project (NYQP) was initiated by Phyllis A. Tepper, who was a docent at the American Folk Art Museum (then called the Museum of American Folk Art). Tepper’s interest in quilts began at the museum. Eventually, she enrolled in quilting classes and began attending lectures on the history of quilts, including a lecture by Shelly Zegart, as part of a symposium of Southern Folk Art sponsored by the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) in 1985. Zegart discussed the Kentucky Quilt Project. In the mid-1980s, many states embarked on “quilt projects,” attempting to document the quilts made in those states.
Because of Tepper’s association with AFAM, and the museum’s long history of exhibiting American quilts, AFAM was a natural sponsor for the New York Quilt Project. A panel of consultants were hired, including Robert Bishop, director of the Museum of American Folk Art; Deborah Ann Blincoe, a New York State folklorist who helped in the initial training of volunteers; Harvey Green, then social historian with the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum in Rochester; Jonathan Holstein, quilt historian and curator of the Whitney Quilt Show in 1971; Laurel Horton, folklorist, consultant to other state quilt projects, and director of the South Carolina Project; Cyril I. Nelson, senior editor at Dutton Studio Books and a quilt collector of long standing; Patsy Orlofsky, textile conservator; Elizabeth V. Warren, then curator at the Museum of American Folk Art; Judith Reiter Weissman, quilt historian with special emphasis on women’s history; and Shelly Zegart, quilt dealer and historian and the “mother” of state quilt projects.
A questionnaire, which makes up the bulk of the collection, was created with research help from Laurel Horton and Lee Kogan. The questionnaire was created with the intention of one day adding all of the results to a database.
Forty-five Quilt Days were held across the state in 1988 and 1989. Although not every New York County was represented, each region was, and the organizers advertised across the state with various quilt guilds and groups. Volunteers became documenters, quilt hangers, and photographers, and more than six thousand quilts were documented in churches, YMCAs, county fairgrounds, museums, historical societies, and more.
The NYQP resulted in an exhibition and book, both titled New York Beauties: Quilts from the Empire State (on view April 23, 1994–September 11, 1994).