If bonnets, straw hats and electric fireplaces are all that comes to mind when you picture the Amish, clearly you haven’t seen a gut-punch episode of Discovery Channel’s Amish Mafia.
The series follows desperados within the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pa., who take the law into their own hands. And no, I ain’t talking issuing a ticket for a double-parked buggy, brethren.
Imagine a land filled with AK-toting outlaws; underground raves featuring gyrating, plain-dressed harlots; and covert barn fights. Yes, barn fights.
“There’s nothin’ better to do on a Friday night than get punched in the face,” one cast member says.
Wanting to share in the badassness, perhaps, the Museum of International Folk Art unveils Plain Geometry: Amish Quilts this Sunday, a show that “explores the origins and aesthetics of a tradition that has evolved in a changing world.”
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know that much about the Amish before I hung this,” Bobbi Sumberg, the museum’s curator of textiles and costume, tells SFR.
She’s standing inside the Lloyd Cotsen gallery, where the exhibition is half-hung. “The gallery was designed to create these view pathways,” Sumberg says of the concentric layout.
She’s surrounded by the usual accoutrements—ladders, hammers, blank reader rails and, in this particular case, a handheld garment steamer.
In preparing for the exhibit, Sumberg says she read and researched the traditionalist culture as much as she could. “I tend to think about the Amish as The Amish, when in reality there’s been a lot of splintering, a lot of different congregations with very subtle differences in what they believe—and therefore, they’re not these Amish; they are these Amish.”
These differences are evident in their craft as well, as the 34 quilts that compose the show run the gamut from the more traditional pieces, wherein their makers resorted to intricate needle work—complex swirls and grids—to create their own patterns, to the inclusion of once-forbidden pastel colors and print fabrics.
Quilt-making, Sumberg notes, was uncommon in Amish communities until the late 19th century. Before then, they used feather-filled duvets and woven blankets, in keeping with Germanic tradition.
Featuring antique diamond squares and log cabin quilts as well was more colorful examples from as recently as 1991, some of the works in this exhibit are so captivating that they entrance the viewer with a quasi Magic Eye 3D picture effect.
“The specificity which people live with,” Sumberg says, was one of the most eye-opening surprises in preparing for Plain Geometry.
“This one group, although there’s no written rule, they would never use yellow,” she says.
The curator hopes visitors will take away more than geometric eye candy.
“I hope that people will come and go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know how specific the communities are,’” Sumberg says, adding that the show is 100 percent secular. “I give just a little bit of information about the religion, because really, the show is not about religion, it’s about quilts.”
Plain Geometry: Amish Quilts
1-4 pm Sunday, March 3.
Free with museum admission.
Museum of International Folk Art,
706 Camino Lejo, 476-1200