Joe Cunningham began making quilts professionally in 1979, after a ten-year career as a musician in Michigan. His early mentors, including the renowned Michigan quiltmaker Mary Schaefer, were steeped in the history and traditions of quilts, leading him to a life of the study of quilt history and a love of traditional techniques, especially hand stitching. Over the years, his work has evolved into a unique personal style that is both original and shaped by the tradition.
Joe’s quilts are in the permanent collections of museums, as well as in numerous private collections. The de Young Museum in San Francisco has acquired one of Joe’s quilts for its esteemed textile collection, the first contemporary quilt in its holdings, and the Shelburne Museum in Vermont has acquired one of his quilts as well. His 11 books on quilts include Men and the Art of Quiltmaking (the first book on the subject), a museum catalogue for the Shelburne Museum’s exhibition, Man-Made Quilts: Civil War to the Present, and his essay for the de Young Museum show Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown. His column for the national magazine The Quilt Life is called “Biased and Edgy.” He has been seen on the Peabody Award winning PBS series Craft in America, the HGTV series Simply Quilts with Alex Anderson, the PBS series Sewing with Nancy and on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims.
Joe gives talks about quilts and teaches workshops nationwide. You may have seen his musical quilt show, Joe the Quilter, which is based on the life of Joseph Hedley, a tailor-turned-quiltmaker who lived in England during the last half of the eighteenth century.