GOSHEN — Goshen native Janneken Smucker said she’s always had an interest in Amish culture.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that she decided to develop that interest into a book exploring one particular aspect of that culture: Amish quilts.
Smucker, now a professor of history at West Chester University, has devoted hours to studying and researching Amish quilts and their transition from a simple bedcovering to a collectible item.
“I started to think, well, how did quilts become art objects?” Smucker said. “Clearly they weren’t created as such.”
Smucker’s book, “Amish Quilts, Crafting an American Icon,” explains how the quilts started to become more sought-after in the 1970s.
“This market emerged ... where the quilts began to be worth hundreds of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Smucker said. “These quilts were made as showcases, to a degree, even in Amish homes. But in the early 1980s prices of the quilts started to skyrocket.”
She said her book explains how quilts left Amish homes, and quiltmakers started catering to non-Amish customers. Smucker researched quilt collections in Elkhart and LaGrange counties, and many of the quilts are pictured in the book.
The book, Smucker said, “would appeal to anyone who is interested in old order Amish.”
And although Smucker has a master’s degree in textiles, she said the book isn’t written in an purely academic style.
“I try to have a pretty wide-angle lens in my book,” Smucker said. “Readers could learn about the history of quilts, what they are and when Amish families started making them.”
Ultimately, she said, the book “is about this interaction between two worlds,” Amish and non-Amish, and how quilts have drawn the two worlds a little closer together.
Smucker is doing a book signing from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Better World Books.
She will also speak at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at the Goshen College Chapel. The title of that talk is “Amish Quilts: The Story of America’s ‘First Abstract Art.’”
Smucker will do a second talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Goshen College Newcomer Center. The subject is “A Good Amish Quilt Folded Like Money.”
Both presentations are free and open to the public.