Linda Eaton, a longtime textiles curator at Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, has died.
Eaton, the retired John T. and Marjorie McGraw director of collections, had worked at Winterthur for more than 30 years, retiring at the end of 2020. She died from a long-term illness, according to a press release from Winterthur.
At the former du Pont estate turned museum of decorative arts, Eaton oversaw the acquisition, interpretation, care and exhibition of the museum’s textile collection, which includes nearly 20,000 furnishings, articles of clothing, rugs, quilts and needlework.
A specialist in textile conservation as well as textile history, she advanced technical and scientific knowledge of textiles broadly.
She was recognized around the world for her leadership in interdisciplinary textile scholarship. At the same time, she delighted in showing people how Henry Francis du Pont would buy an exquisite antique dress and cut out a piece of the skirt to upholster a piano stool.
“Linda was one of those rare individuals who could speak with authority on detailed and technical matters one moment and in the next could sweep you away with her profound appreciation for the artistry and craft of an item,” said Chris Strand, the interim CEO of Winterthur, in a press release. “She shared this gift through her teaching, her mentoring of staff and students, and the creation of our most popular and engaging exhibitions. All of us will miss her passion and her friendship.”
Among other things, Eaton taught hundreds of graduate students in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She shared her enthusiasm with everyone from kindergartners to serious quilters, stitchers, designers, embroiderers and general audiences.
Hundreds attended her regular needlework conferences at Winterthur.
Eaton trained at the Textile Conservation Centre at the University of Glasgow and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London before working for the National Museums of Scotland. She came to Winterthur in 1991 as a textile conservator.
Helping to give credit to women’s roles in design and decorative arts through the ages, she curated popular and scholarly exhibitions about embroidery such as “Quilts in a Material World;” “Needles and Haystacks: Pastoral Imagery in American Needlework; With Cunning Needle: Four Centuries of Embroidery;” “The Diligent Needle: Instrument of Profit, Pleasure, and Ornament;” and “Embroidery: The Language of Art,” as well as “Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend,” co-curated with Dr. Marla Miller.
Eaton also curated the popular “Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes,” and was an instrumental partner in one of Winterthur’s most memorable exhibitions, “Costuming The Crown” in 2019, the only exhibition of costumes from the popular Netflix series.
Not only could she break down the glories of what she saw to make the details of clothes and quilts come alive for those less steeped in the intricacies of needlework, she would show visitors how to photograph pieces of exhibits with their smart photos so they could blow images up and clearly see details.
Her publications include “Quilts in a Material World: Selections from the Winterthur Collection (2007),” and “Printed Textiles: British and American Cottons and Linens, 1700–1850″ (2014), a revision of Florence Montgomery’s seminal 1970 book. Eaton’s latest publication, “Erica Wilson: A Life in Stitches,” co-authored with Anne Hilker, was released in December 2020.
“Linda must hold the record for number of scholarly publications and exhibitions emanating from Winterthur,” said Tom Savage, the former director of external affairs at Winterthur and a longtime friend. “Her ‘Quilts in a Material World’ book and exhibition placed Winterthur’s extraordinary collection in a global context. There was nothing parochial about her approach. She knew the wide world of textiles internationally and brought that vast knowledge to the study of the most minute topic.”‘
Eaton’s students and mentees work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Museum Tongarewa, as well as Winterthur.
“Linda was a textilian to her core and a staunch—one might even say fierce—advocate for the objects made from fibers and the people who created them,” said Joy Gardiner, head of conservation for Winterthur, in a press release. “In her generous sharing of this advocacy in teaching, publications, workshops and exhibitions, she fostered an expanded appreciation of the medium at Winterthur and well beyond. Her influence will be long lasting.”
Outside the museum and the classroom, Eaton served as the volunteer president of the Arden Craft Museum Board, which preserves the unique history of three communities known collectively as The Ardens.
A curator of textiles position has been created in her name.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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