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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Infinite Variety" at the Park Avenue Armory

One of our favorite buildings in New York, the Park Avenue Armory--aka the Seventh Regiment Armory--is playing host to a wonderful, free exhibition, Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts. The catch is that it is only up for two more days, so if you would like to see it, you must go today or tomorrow.

The Seventh Regiment, or "Silk Stocking Regiment," was one of the most important volunteer militias in America in the era before the U.S. had a large standing army. As we note in Inside the Apple:

The regiment was called in to quell the Astor Place riots and was instrumental in the military’s role in ending the Civil War Draft Riots in 1863…. In the 1870s, the city ceded the regiment a block on Fourth Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets. Originally, this had been part of Hamilton Square, one of the few pubic plazas that had appeared on the original Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 but had never been built, in part because it lay along the awful stretch of Fourth Avenue that was the New York and Harlem Railroad’s right of way. 
While the city was happy to rent the land to the Seventh Regiment for a nominal fee, neither it nor the state had any funds available for construction, so the regiment was forced to raise its own funds. It turned first to its wealthy members, who contributed $200,000, before holding events to raise more. From that point forward, the regiment and its new headquarters would be associated with large events, from fairs and grand balls to sporting events and antique shows. 
The regiment picked one of its own veterans, Charles Clinton, to design the building. The massive structure, opened in 1880, takes up the entire block between Park and Lexington Avenues. The rear section was a drill hall—at the time, the largest interior drilling space ever created, spanned by a tremendous 300-foot barrel vault—and the front was three stories of meeting rooms for the various regimental companies. These rooms are some of the most lavishly appointed in the city; of particular note are the Veterans’ Room and Library on the main floor, which were done by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Associated Artists, and remain today the most complete Tiffany interiors. 

While the Tiffany rooms aren't open to the public, the massive drill hall is playing to host to this wonderful exhibition of mainly 19th- and early 20th-century quilts. Even if you have zero interest in quilts, the show is worth seeing. Innovatively hung by Thinc Design--the same people who are working on the September 11th Museum at the World Trade Center site--at first glance, the show has more in common with a showcase of Abstract Expressionism than Americana. But once you begin to delve into the designs of the individual quilts (and there are 650 of them from Joanna S. Rose's personal collection), the show becomes a primer in American history and values from the 19th century.

The exhibit is open today, Tuesday 3/29, from 11:00-7:00PM and tomorrow, 3/30, from 11:00-5:00PM.

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Read more about the Park Avenue Armory and the Seventh Regiment in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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