The real purpose of a distinguished quilt show like "A Quilt Sampler" at the Chester County Historical Society is to initiate us into the wonders of this humble art's visual richness.

This large show also helps teach us to see, for it is no dry encyclopedia of style or simple overview of this popular subject.

Its strength is due to much thought and excellent judgment in selecting the works on view. All are drawn from an exceptionally rich permanent collection of quilts linked with Chester County that haven't been shown in 10 years.

Ranging from the mid-1840s to the early 20th century, these quilts include some true gems. There is considerable information here about why certain rare examples were made, or how they were displayed. ("Crazy quilts" were draped on furniture.)

Perhaps the show's most outstanding work - and a success story in its day besides - is the Civil War Fund-Raising Quilt, Rose Wreath Variation Applique, 1864, made by women from Newlin Township in Chester County and sold at a fair in Philadelphia to raise money for Union soldiers in field hospitals.

The women stitched it by hand, intent upon refining their approach and carrying it to new heights of skill and inventiveness.

The most interesting thing about the exhibit may be that it is organized in such a way as to constantly call attention to major quilts of one type or other, but also to introduce specialized smaller displays. These include doll furnishings, a crazy quilt made with a pair of leather gloves appliqued to it, sewing tools, quilting templates, and a Victorian parlor installation.

Excellent show, without a dull moment.

Chester County Historical Society, 225 N High, West Chester. To Sept. 16. Tue-Sat 10-5. Adults $8. 610-692-4800.

Bucks Gallery of Fine Art. MaryAnn Katowitz of Fort Washington shows paintings at the Bucks Gallery containing slender sinewy shapes, earth colors predominating.

These mostly vertical shapes resemble templates or sets of kitchen measuring spoons - narrow at one end, round at the other, and flat in between.

Might this artist's next move be to get off the canvas, and into dioramas or sculpture, where she could add depth to her work?

Bucks Gallery of Fine Art, 201 S State St, Newtown. To June 12. Mon & Wed 11-6, Fri-Sat 11-9, Sun noon-5. Free. 215-579-0050.

Main Line Art Center. The 55-item "Works on Paper" juried regional show at Main Line represents quite a gallop across the variegated terrain of today. And that broad sweep faithfully reflects the especially diverse group of artists who presented work for Jacqueline van Rhyn, the show's judge, to sift.

Coming from Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum, Van Rhyn is now the Print Center curator in Philadelphia. Look for her selection of artists and prize-winners here to be noticed.

Roger Parish of King of Prussia won best-in-show with his small Bramble, Fog monotype view, a simple image notable for the beauty and versatility of its distilled perfection.

Other award winners are L.C. Lim of Haverford, deftly portraying the caprices of perceptual experience, and John Friedman of Philadelphia, less austerely preoccupied with technical finesse.

Also in the winners' circle, Felise Luchansky of Wilmington goes digital and lilting with her startling interpretation of color, Catherine Bancroft of Merion uses a slightly fey collage style as a device, and Louis Gribaudo of Philadelphia has just a bit of the eyes-wide-open quality of an artist capturing a man's end-of-an-era focused facial expression.

Main Line Art Center. Old Buck Rd at Lancaster Ave, Haverford. To June 8. Mon-Thu 9-9, Fri-Sun 10-4. 610-525-0272. First Friday reception June 1, 6-9 p.m. Free.

Contact art critic Victoria Donohoe at The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428.