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 study in 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 book, Men and the Art of Quiltmaking, which is based on his interviews of thirty contemporary male quiltmakers, was published in 2010. He writes a regular column called “Biased and Edgy” for The Quilt Life magazine, and contributed an essay titled “All in the Details: The Making of Amish Quilts” to the catalog for the exhibition Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown, which was shown at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2009. He also lectured at a symposium at the de Young that year and served as artist-in-residence there for a month. The de Young has acquired one of Joe's quilts for its esteemed textile collection, the first contemporary quilt in its holdings, and the Shelburne Museum has acquired one of his quilts as well.
Joe travels throughout the country to give lectures and workshops on quiltmaking. He has appeared on the HGTV series “Simply Quilts with Alex Anderson,” as well as “The Quilt Show” with Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson, and has performed 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, for guilds and theater audiences nationwide. "Joe the Quilter" has been made into a DVD, and Joe’s methods of basting and quilting are also available on DVD.
Joe writes a column for The Quilt Life magazine and also consulted on and wrote the catalog essay essay for Man-Made Quilts: Civil War to the Present, a special exhibition shown at the Shelburne Museum in 2012. Most recently, he contributed to a Craft in America documentary that is scheduled to be broadcast on PBS in February 2014.