Molly Upton @ QuiltCon 2016


The best most fabulous thing happened while I was at QuiltCon 2016 in Pasadena, California.

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The Overcoat 1976

I got to spend a bit of time every day standing in front of Molly Upton’s amazing quilts.

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Watchtower 1975

As I wandered though the exhibition I kept thinking-

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Watchtower detail 1975

How did I not know about her work?

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Blades 1974

These quilts are so incredibly modern and visionary, yet most of her work is at least 40 years old.

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Blades Detail 1974

The thing that brought me to tears every time I looked at her art was knowing how it all ended. She took her own life before her 24th birthday.


Symbol-Self Portrait Without a Mirror 1975

What a tragedy that she did not grow old as a maker and an artist.


Pine Winter 1974

Here is what I know of the story. Pamela Weeks  is a quilt historian and the Binney Family Curator of the New England Quilt Museum.

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Summer Pine 1974

Weeks curated an exhibition of Modern Quilts along with older quilts with the idea that nothing is new under the sewing machine.

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Alchemy 1976

The exhibition was called Roots of Modern Quilting.

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Alchemy Detail 1976

Modern quilter Jackie Geringhad work in the show and attended the opening of the exhibition where her mind, like my mind, was blown away by the work of Molly Upton.


Construction 1975

Gering worked with Weeks to bring Upton’s work to QuiltCon West. Thank you both for making this happen.

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Construction Detail 1975

At QuiltCon, Weeks gave a lecture about Upton’s life and work.

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Bordering on Humor 1974

In the early 1970s Upton was one of several artists who claimed the quilt as a legitimate form for expressing her art.

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Bordering on Humor Detail 1974

She and fellow artist friend Susan Hoffman hunkered down in Cambridge and made several dozen art quilts by bouncing ideas off of each other.

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Nocturne Regalis 1974

Her career moved at a steady clip from that point forward and included New York Gallery representation (she was the first ever quilt maker to do this) and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

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Nocturne Regalis 1974

She was making her mark as an artist, and she was doing it with quilts.

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Greek 1974

And then it ended.

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Greek Detail 1974

In 1977, at the age of 23, she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and ended her life.

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Greek Detail 1974

Every time I think about this it feels like a punch in the stomach.

IMG_1612 (1)It has been over a week and I am still thinking about her daily.

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Fanfare 1975

Every day of the conference, I spent time with her quilts.

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Fanfare Detail 1975

And I kept coming back to those thoughts I mentioned at the beginning of this post, plus this—if she had kept going where exactly would the art quilt be in the larger art world?


Trip Around the Block 1976

Weeks is planning to explore these questions and others and hopefully her research will manifest itself as a book about the New England Art Quilters of the 1970s and their work.

I can’t wait to read it.

This entry was published on February 28, 2016 at 3:33 PM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

22 thoughts on “Molly Upton @ QuiltCon 2016

  1. jan ellen moskowitz on said:

    pamela studstill is a favorite quilter of mine from that era.

  2. What an amazing talent she had! Thanks so much for sharing Molly’s story and quilts. They are beautiful.

  3. I was not familiar with her work, either. Wow! Amazing work!

  4. Thank you for this!

  5. Molly Upton’s exhibit was the one reason that I couldn’t miss QuiltCon, even though there were a lot of reasons I thought about just skipping it. And I am so very glad that I had the opportunity to hear the lecture and to see the quilts up close and personal.

  6. Laura Belkin on said:

    I was aware of Molly Upton but had never seen so many of her quilts. Many thanks for this well illustrated post. Now I wish I had gone to QuiltCon!

  7. Debi Bright on said:

    That was beautiful, Maria, thanks!

  8. Betty Vincent on said:

    Amazing and thanks for sending it for us to see this work. It would be very interesting to see why she took her life.

  9. kathleenloomis on said:

    I have seen pictures of her Watchtower quilt many times, over many decades, but not most of these other ones. how wonderful to get them all together like this.

  10. Wow. Thank you for sharing all of those photos.

  11. Thank you Maria. I had no idea who Molly Upton was until today.

  12. Thank you for sharing Molly Upton’s work and story. Along with Charlotte Scott, I had no idea of who she was. She was an amazing artist, and way ahead of her time. I agree with you, that it was a tragic ending to such a gifted artist; and it makes me wonder what else she might have done in the passing years. You never know the hurt that someone holds in side of them, and what could prompt them to take their own life. I think it is so important to let the people we admire and love know how much we do. All the time.

  13. Thanks for for sharing this.

  14. Thanks for sharing photos of these quilts and information about Molly. It was great to meet you in person.

  15. Such amazing work . . . And such a sad story. If only . . . .

  16. Like you, I stood and looked in awe at Molly’s quilts. You have written a wonderful tribute which brought tears to my eyes again. Thank you, Maria

  17. Thank you for sharing all these pictures. I saw a few on another blog, but had not known about her before that. It is sad that she did not get to see how joyous her life could be and how much quilters admire her work now.

  18. Pingback: QuiltCon Report | debby quilts

  19. Paula on said:

    Many moons ago while NE Quilters Guild was stumping around trying to raise the funds for the museum to become a physical reality, The Evergreen Quilters of Maine volunteered to hang a building at the Topsfield Fair 4 H building which housed a few collections of quilts. One of the collections was some of Molly Upton’s quilts. For security reasons and to stave off extra costs, our group slept with the quilts as security. We slept on fold out lawn lounges and anything we could think of and I planted my lounger underneath Torrid Dwelling for the night. Up close it was intricate and mind blowing, but I woke so many times during the majority of the night I had to finally move and ended up sleeping under some of the more traditional quilts. Talk about a physical reaction to a powerful quilt! I have loved Molly Upton;s quilts ever since. Susan Hoffman, Molly;s close friend had also passed away at that time and while hanging Molly;s quilts, Susan’s parents arrived bearing two of Susan’s quilts and asked if we would hang them too. We did gratefully. Susan Hoffman is often forgotten and her work should not be. Both innovators of the modern quilt as art.

    • Wow. Paula, that is an incredible story. You are right, we should not forget Susan’s work. Thank you very much for sharing this. Torrid Dwelling would be a very difficult quilt to sleep next too!

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