The Alliance for American Quilts began to develop a strategy that would identify and document key figures in the quilt revival movement and present and preserve the documentation for future generations in the 1990s. The Quilt Treasures Project was begun by The Alliance for American Quilts, Michigan State University Museum, and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online to meet these goals.
Quilt Treasures is now a national oral history project focused on those individuals key to the quilt revival. The project involves in-depth, multimedia documentation of these individuals' lives, their work, and their influence on the quilt world.
According to Alliance for American Quilts co-founder, Shelly Zegart: “Quilt Treasures are the special women and men who were key to the American quilt revival of the 1960s and 1970s, reawakening interest nationwide in the history, craft, and social and aesthetic value of quilts. They ensured the preservation and documentation of quilts through the state and regional quilt projects and they took quilting as a cultural expression to new heights. As creators, teachers, communicators, and links in a growing network, these ‘quilt treasures’ built an art form and an industry that today involves and touches millions of Americans. As these individuals began to retire from active involvement in the quilt world, an important piece of American social and cultural history was at risk of being lost.” (Zegart, 2003)
A task force for the project created a standard set of questions that could be asked of each individual interviewee. Additional individual-specific questions were generated for particular interviews as needed. A two-member documentary team consisting of a documentary videographer and interviewer was formed for each interview. Everyone interviewed in this oral history project gave their written consent. The specific interviewees were chosen based upon suggestions by Alliance for the American Quilt board members, the Quilt Treasures task force, and others knowledgeable about the late twentieth century revival period in American quilting history.
The Quilt Treasures Web portraits feature biographies and videotaped interviews, mini-documentaries, photos, a timeline of activities, bibliographies and other resources relating to each individual. Other components have been developed as needed based on the interviewee’s life and work. These components have included testimonies from friends and/or colleagues, exhibit histories, teaching portfolios, and poetry. Individuals currently documented with web portraits include:
Many of the individuals documented as Quilt Treasures have had wide-reaching impacts not only within the quilting world, but beyond the field of quilting and quilt history. Cuesta Benberry, for example, was a noted scholar of African American history and culture. Scholars of oral history use the documentaries produced by this project to document and understand various aspects of American culture. One of the most popular min-documentaries, "On Pimento cheese sandwiches," provides insight into an aspect of Southern culture and foodways.