Olivia Weber ’16 studies the intersection of religion and quiltmaking as a John C. Young Scholar
In the midst of studying for classes and writing papers, students do not always have the chance to make new discoveries in their fields of interest. However, as a John C. Young (JCY) Scholar, Olivia Weber ’16 conducted research about an art form that had not previously been paid much scholarly attention: quiltmaking.
Weber’s project, “Quilting a Story: Women, Methodism, and Textiles,” examined the popularity of quiltmaking among Methodist women and the social implications of the artistic medium.
“There is a lot of evidence that, historically, the Methodists have made quilts in much higher numbers than members of other religious groups have,” Weber says. “Methodist women saw quilts as a way to improve society in that they could come together as a community and make a beautiful object, which they could then auction off to raise money for their own charitable work.”
Weber’s research has been pioneering in the field of art history.
“As an artistic medium, quilts have received surprisingly little scholarly attention,” says Assistant Professor of Art History Jay Bloom, Weber’s JCY advisor.
“When I pitched my idea, there was no previous scholarship that sought to specifically investigate the reasons behind why Methodists were producing quilts in much higher numbers than people from other religious backgrounds,” Weber adds.
To gain an in-depth understanding of quiltmaking in Methodist communities, Weber traveled far beyond Centre’s campus to such locales as Delaware and Maryland.
“She had to do so much work ‘on the ground,’” says Bloom. “Liv ended up forging personal connections with quilt scholars. Without the opportunity to develop her own intellectual community, Liv’s project would have produced a totally different result.”
The scholarly autonomy the JCY Program affords students was one of Weber’s favorite aspects of the experience.
“For the first time in my undergraduate career, I have been able to conduct my own research into something that I am genuinely passionate about,” Weber says. “There is no way I would have been able to realistically complete even a quarter of this research if I were only doing it for one of my courses.”
Bloom agrees that the opportunities the JCY program provides students are unique.
“One of the richest rewards that the JCY Program affords is a fundamentally different understanding of research,” he says. “In most cases, they really don’t know what they’re getting into. They follow where their research leads them, and the results are often surprisingly distant from what they had initially envisioned. That understanding of research as an inherently creative process was something I saw reflected in all the JCY projects this year.”
Weber, who recently graduated from Centre with a degree in art history, will pursue a master’s degree in art history at the George Washington University this fall. She hopes that she will be able to further explore “the history of craft traditions and the complex relationship between ‘art’ and ‘craft’” in that program, she says.
“Although my research into quilts is a departure from what I’m used to studying, what I’ve learned this year has really informed my understanding of art,” Weber adds. “Craft is a very socially driven form of artistic production, which makes it different from what we consider ‘high art,’ and therefore, all the more important to understand and appreciate.”
Weber advises students interested in future JCY scholarships not to be afraid of the unknown.
“Before I began this project I knew very little at all about quilts and how they’re made. Now I consider myself somewhat of a ‘quilt expert,’” she says. “It’s been a fun adventure in which I’ve learned a lot.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
June 3, 2016