Saturday, December 11, 2021

Infinite Variety: Joanna Semel Rose


Joanna Semel Rose (1930-2021)

New York lost a remarkable woman last month with the passing of Joanna Semel Rose.

Quilt fans are familiar with her name because her husband threw
her a spectacular 80th birthday party in 2011.

With the help of the American Folk Art Museum the Roses filled a huge space in the Park Avenue Armory with 651 red and white quilts for five days. Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts, was a gift for Joanna and everyone else. Admission was free.

The 55,000-square-foot Armory empty

She is known as a philanthropist. Blessed with a fortune she and her family generously gave to causes important to them, particularly educational opportunities for children such as the Harlem Educational Activities Fund and the National Dance Institute.

She herself was a brilliant student, graduating from Bryn Mawr summa cum laude as valedictorian. 

She was Chair of the Board of The Partisan Review literary magazine and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

You will see her name and her husband's in spaces around New York, such as the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library.

 And in spaces outside of Manhattan; an asteroid belt is named DanielJoanna after the Roses.

For fun she collected quilts (She said: Accumulated quilts---she didn't collect them.)

An enthusiastic accumulator, she also bought cookbooks, Pre-Columbian
art, oriental rugs and fashion from Christian Lacroix. 

Morgan Library
Illustration of Psalm 104 by Barbara Wolff

She commissioned modern manuscripts from Jewish texts and donated her collection of Judaica to the Morgan Library and Museum.

Red and white quilts were not her only quilt collection. A few years ago the International Quilt Museum hung a show of her quilts featuring chrome orange and yellow fabrics.

Recently she donated her quilts to the International Quilt Museum, which plans an exhibit (A selection of the quilts. They are not renting an armory) from April 1, 2022 to September 10, 2022.

Catalog of the exhibit

Inspiration for Joanna's Armory show title was found in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”:
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety …
Which described her perfectly.


  1. I went to that show - it was spectacular! Took 100s of photos!

  2. Best Quilt Display that ever was or will be. Thanks for sharing more about Rose's life.

  3. My niece saw the R&W quilts show in NY--I asked her to see it with my eyes--she said it was astonishng.
    I bought the R&W quilts books:oh my goodness.

  4. This show was life changing for me, and I'll forever be grateful for Joanna Rose and her family for putting that show together. Hopefully I will get to see this next exhibit of her pieces in 2022.