Frisch's fascination with quilts started at Bowling Green Junior High School PDF Print E-mail
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor   
Saturday, 28 December 2013 09:14
Janice Frisch is becoming an international quilt historian. She just got her Ph.D. in folklore and just presented a talk at a conference in England about her disertation research on 1800s English and American quilts. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Way back when she was a Wood County 4-H member, Janice Frisch decided she wanted most of all to do a quilting project.
She was dismayed to discover 4-H had no such project. Sewing coats, prom dresses and pajamas, yes; food, animals, photography, first aid, furniture-making and a host of other projects, sure; but not quilting.
“So I did a create-your-own project on quilting - twice,” Frisch recalled. A decade and a half later, 4-H now offers a quilting project that anyone can take.
Frisch didn’t know it back then, when she was serving as president of the Bowling Green-Portage based Four Leaf Clover Kids, volunteering as a 4-H Camp counselor and on the Food, Fashion and Family Board, but those early 4-H experiences have formed the cornerstone of her emerging career.
It’s one that has taken the Bowling Green native abroad and gained her international recognition while still in her 20s.
The newly-minted Dr. Frisch received a Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University earlier this month.
In early October she traveled to York, England, to give a major presentation on her dissertation work on the tie between U.S. and British quilting styles.
“It basically looks at British-English-Welsh-Irish quilts from the 1700s and early 1800s and their influence on early American quilting.”
She was invited to give her presentation to the British Quilt Studies Group, the research subset of the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles, along with Dorothy Osler, an Englishwoman deemed one of the leading experts in British quilt history.
Both Frisch’s and Osler’s papers are being published in the journal of the British Quilt Studies Group.
“I’ve been quilting since junior high,” said Frisch, when she learned from Dr. Carol Hicks. A 2003 graduate of Bowling Green High School, she also did a research project on quilters in the area, including Anne Donaldson and Bess Wood, as part of the American Studies course.
As an Ohio University undergraduate, “I stumbled into the Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center which hosted the biannual international art quilt show called Quilt National.”
She helped the show’s director, got interested in museum work, and took an art history class at the Kennedy Museum of Art, which is OU’s art museum.
“That museum has a fantastic collection of Native American textiles and jewelry from the southwest” which introduced her to Navajo weaving. “The curator there pointed out they had a number of really spectacular Navajo weavings from the 1880s that had block styling” - also seen in early British and U.S. quilts.
That got Frisch wondering about “the way designs crossed mediums and cultures. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the connection between these Navajo weavings and the American quilting tradition” and did a related exhibition at the Kennedy museum.
“For my master’s I decided to look at a modern phenomenon in the U.S. - T-shirt quilting” which Frisch considers an under-appreciated art form. “They can be very elegant, very well laid out and no other country is doing them as of yet.”
Frisch was surprised to learn that “everybody disagreed on how uniquely American these block designs were - and on the correct dates” for when such quilts first appeared. Guesstimates ranged all the way from the late 1700s to the 1860s. Still more shocking, “I discovered there was nothing written on this.”
Frisch set out to fill the void.
“Sociologically, quilting comes down the social stratum in the British. It started out as a pastime of the upper classes,” who used a technique called mosaic patchwork.
“They would draw patterns, cut them out of paper; they can be very, very complicated. This was not a bed quilt, but rather tapestries. People probably did not sleep under them because once they were put together the paper was left inside. Paper was very expensive then.”
At first, there were two separate arts in Britain - professional quilting and patchwork - “and it was men who did it.
“The two arts came together in the late 1690s. That’s when it became the purview of upper- and upper-middle-class women” and quilting began to be done inside the home.
The real democratization of quilting came in the late 1700s when cotton first became widely available in the United Kingdom, replacing costly silk in quilting.
It turns out that “blocks you’ll find in 1700s British quilts are the blocks you’ll find most commonly in quilts we think of as American - the half triangle, four patch, nine patch, hourglass/bowtie and two forms of eight-pointed star, one kind of related to the Ohio star pattern.”
Frisch proved this grid-based design element leaped the “Pond” at the turn of the century and “started showing up in abundance in the United States between 1800 and 1820.”
Rapid experimentation meant that “by 1840 American quilts are looking very different from their British predecessors.”
Frisch has done in-person research on 140 early quilts at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, and during a five-week trip to the United Kingdom in 2010. The marathon journey included seven different museums in Ulster, Belfast and Omagh, Northern Ireland; Cardiff, Wales; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Beamish Museum in northern England, and York.
She’s eager to do further research in Holland and France, both of which influenced early British quilts, and ultimately “I’d love to work as a museum curator, preferably in Europe somewhere, for a little while.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 January 2014 12:47

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