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Oct 29

Common Threads temporary exhibit begins Nov. 7 at Johnson County Museum

Posted on October 29, 2020 at 10:31 AM by Becky Burnside

“A really cool way to dig into history that is often overlooked and underrepresented,” is the way Johnson County Curator of Interpretation Andrew R. Gustafson describes the next temporary exhibit opening at the museum in early November.

Common Threads is the name of this exhibit, which features about two dozen quilts, ranging from the 1850s through the 1960s. This display draws from the museum’s collection of community quilts and explores both the historic patterns they contain as well as some of the great Johnson County family stories associated with the quilt makers. Common Threads opens Nov. 7 and runs through Jan. 23.

“Quilts contain historic patterns, use specific types of materials across time and space, and tie into larger geographic and historic contexts,” Gustafson said. “So when visitors look at the quilts in the exhibit, they will see more than just the beautiful fabric in front of them, but can look deeper to see those intimate and macro stories, as well as how those quilts tie into eras in Johnson County’s history. As artifacts, the quilts allow us to tell stories from the community that might otherwise go untold—stories of women, who made the quilts; stories of both community leaders and the area’s poorest residents; and stories from average people living at various times in the county’s history. Objects that can tell the story of everyday, lived lives in the past are among the most interesting to me as a historian.”

Common Threads exhibit quilt

In a sense, the exhibit ties into 2020’s centennial of the 19th Amendment, through which women won the right to vote. 

“While creating a quilt is not an overtly political act - although one of our quilts features dozens of hand-stitched political cartoons from the 1932 presidential election - it was a gendered task,” he noted. “Women and girls were expected to know how to quilt, sometimes as necessity for families to survive and sometimes as a social norm for groups of women to get together. This is an exhibit that features the craft and work of women from Johnson County’s history, and tells that history through their lived experiences. I think the exhibit is a really cool way to dig into history that is often overlooked and underrepresented.”

This temporary exhibit will take place at the Johnson County Museum, located inside the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. Exhibit admission is included with regular museum admission rates of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children ages one to 18, and free for children under one. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday. In order to promote physical distancing, the Johnson County Museum is offering limited admission and a mid-day cleaning. Museum admission does not include access to KidScape. For admission to the museum and KidScape, please visit

A free virtual program relating to the exhibit called History on Tap - Quilts on the Kansas Frontier, is scheduled on Nov. 12 for ages 21 and older. Participants in this program are invited to join Kansas Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman for a discussion of the history and culture of quilting in Kansas.

“We are thrilled to have Barbara present this program - she is known in the Kansas quilting community as an expert, and the program will really tie our exhibit into the larger history of quilting in Kansas and the region,” Gustafson said.

This History on Tap presentation will take place beginning at 6 p.m. via Zoom. There is no charge for this one-hour program, but registration is required. For more information or to register, call (913) 831-3359 or click on the link above. One week prior to the event, all registered participants will receive an email with a Zoom link and instructions on how to proceed. 

The Common Threads temporary exhibit was scheduled long before anyone knew what kind of year 2020 was going to be, but given the year we’ve had, the museum’s first quilt exhibit in 15 years seems even more appropriate for this time.

“This exhibit reminds us that we are all tied to history - we are making it now,” Gustafson said. “But this exhibit will show that folks living in the Great Depression made it; folks farming in the county made it; folks volunteering to help their community made it. Did they know that their quilts would end up as historic artifacts in the Johnson County Museum? Probably not, but we all help make up Johnson County’s history. I think this exhibit is a reinforcement of that fact, a realization that many people are feeling for the first time this year. The history of this county is made up one person at a time, one piece at a time, and in the case of this exhibit, one quilt at a time.”