Could you please tell me if there is a standard procedure for donating antique textiles (a quilt), or if there are any special considerations that need to be made aware of?
Once upon a time, people considered museums to be the communal warehouses. In point of fact, the Smithsonian Institution has been referred to as “The nation’s attic” on numerous occasions.
There was a time when families who did not have any heirs would simply take their family heirlooms and leave them at the local historical society, with the expectation that the items would be cherished, cared for, and displayed for future generations.
While many museums and historical groups were working to become interpretive centers, they found themselves burdened with the expense and work of caring for hundreds of wedding dresses, thousands of tea sets, and other precious family artifacts. In addition, they wanted to explore and explain the everyday lives of people in their areas during different times in history. They required work attire, not wedding gowns, as well as cereal boxes rather than silver tea sets in order to function properly. And they needed the money so that they could pay for storage that was both temperature and humidity controlled.
The majority of museums and historical societies in the modern world have implemented accession policies, which require them to only collect items that contribute to their interpretive mission and fill in gaps in their existing collections.
Consider what you hope to achieve by donating a quilt or other type of textile to a museum if you are considering making such a gift. Would you like your quilt to be on display? Do you want the quilt you made to be accessible to researchers so they can study it? If the museum wanted to add something more significant to their collection, would it be okay with you if they sold your quilt so they could afford it? Do you want the option to reclaim the quilt in the event that the museum makes the decision to remove it from display?
What kind of recognition would you like for the gift you gave? Is the museum permitted to take photographs of the quilt, create notecards based on the design of the quilt, and create and sell patterns that are based on the design of the quilt? Do you want your city and state to be listed (some collectors choose to remain anonymous or leave few clues about the locations of their collections) if it is exhibited? If so, how do you want to be listed if it is cataloged?
After the James Collection was donated to the International Quilt Study Center, the parties came to an agreement that was more than twenty pages long in order to cover all of their respective rights and responsibilities.
Keeping, protecting, and looking after quilts can be a costly endeavor. Each needs its own acid-free container, which needs to be replaced every ten to fifteen years. Each requires approximately 50 sheets of acid-free tissue, which must be replaced every three to five years and can’t be used more than once. A paid member of staff or a volunteer will need to refold each quilt four times over the course of the year. And ideally, it will be stored in a location where the temperature, humidity, and preventative measures against pest infestation are all carefully monitored. There may also be an additional cost for conservation treatment depending on the state that the quilt is currently in.
Before you clean the quilt, restore it, or make any other changes to it, you should consult with the person who will eventually receive it. Depending on the policies of the museum, they may not accept items that have been altered or those that have been handled with conservation measures that are less than professional.
When you are thinking about donating a quilt to a museum and you want it to remain in their possession for the foreseeable future (many museums will not even accept items if they do not have the right to deaccession them at some point in the future), you should think about donating a sum that will pay for the quilt’s care and maintenance from the interest it earns. Along with the quilt, a donation of $1,000 to $1,500 in cash would likely be very well received by the majority of museums. This is because of the high cost of packaging materials like boxes and tissue, as well as the historically low interest rates on savings accounts. An accession agreement should, of course, cover everything that needs to be covered, including any agreement about how those funds will be used, how long the museum agrees to keep the quilt, and how it will care for it.
There might be a standard agreement at your museum, but you should be aware that you always have the option of suggesting changes to it. It is possible that you will need to pay a lawyer to rewrite the agreement. Discuss what you want to take place at the museum with the curators after you have it written down in clear English how you envision it taking place. After you have reached a consensus, they might have a volunteer attorney who will draft the agreement once you have done so. You should still consider hiring an attorney to review the agreement on your behalf before you commit to it.
If the quilt has a significant monetary value, it is generally considered the responsibility of the donor to obtain an independent appraisal of the quilt’s value.
Donating quilts that have been damaged can be an even bigger problem. Many museums will decline the donation of a quilt if it does not have a significant historical significance for the area in which it is located or if it is the only quilt of its kind that the institution possesses.
The Quilt Heritage Foundation will accept donations of quilts that have been damaged in some way. One of the following can be accomplished with their assistance:
- The quilt is evaluated to determine whether or not it is in sufficient condition to be of interest to a collector who may be interested in restoring it. If it is, it is entered into the scholarship auction that is held during one of the Foundation’s conferences. People who otherwise would not be able to attend the Foundation’s conferences and workshops can receive financial assistance in the form of scholarships thanks to the proceeds from this event.
- It may become a source of patterns for the Quilt Preservation Society if it has a pattern that hasn’t been used before or if it interprets a traditional pattern in a way that hasn’t been done before.
- If the quilt can be repaired or redesigned, it is given to a volunteer restorer who takes it home to work on it and then donates it to a future auction to raise money for scholarship programs.
- If the quilt is truly beyond repair, it may be used as a teaching tool for those who work in the restoration industry, similar to how donated bodies may be used to teach medical students.
The only quilts that the Foundation will not take are those that have been damaged by mold, mildew, or insects, or those that have been soiled with substances that could put the Foundation’s volunteers in danger (body fluids, animal waste, etc.). They will take quilt pieces that were damaged in natural disasters such as fires or floods as long as the pieces have been thoroughly cleaned first.
Please feel free to get in touch with Nancy Kirk, President of the Quilt Heritage Foundation, at the following address: P.O. Box 19452, Omaha, Nebraska 68119. If you intend to send a quilt, please enclose a letter in which you describe the quilt’s history to the best of your knowledge and indicate that the quilt is being given as a donation.
According to subsection 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Quilt Heritage Foundation is classified as an organization that operates exclusively for charitable purposes. All donations are tax-deductible.
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