QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT


Friday, March 22, 2019

Garnhart Group of Quilts #6: Conclusions


The general look in the Garnhart quilts identifies them as a style group with several fabrics and chintz applique blocks in common. There is a signature overall design format with some being nearly identical. Style and details point to one hand, but was that hand Catherine Garnhart's?

On the left, a Garnhart family quilt; on the right one
quilt attributed to Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia.

Several similar quilts descended in Catherine Garnhart's family with typical family stories that she stitched them. But there are also similar quilts with no relationship to the Garnhart family or Frederick, Maryland. The provenance of the Brooklyn Museum's Elizabeth Welsh quilt has been well studied. William Dunton, who first pictured it, indicated it came by way of a Mrs. Smith from Frederick. No connection to any Hummel/Markey/Garnhart family has been found. Dunton spelled the name here as "Weltch (?)" but the Brooklyn Museum spells it Welsh.

When I began looking at the Garnhart group of quilts a year or so ago I was looking for some evidence that Catherine was a professional seamstress; that she somehow was responsible for these quilts assembled of blocks made by paid stitchers.

Similar bedcovers found in Baltimore,
attributed to Goodwin Wilkins family

 I was looking for another Achsah Wilkins/Goodwin family type of workshop, which is why I spent so much time looking into the lives of Catherine's mother and daughters in law. (She also had several half sisters.) But I found nothing that would indicate she ever sewed a stitch besides these quilts---except for the family stories and a single girlhood sampler in the DAR Museum collection.

Union soldiers in Frederick, 1862
Library of Congress

I couldn't connect Catherine or her family to any kind of sewing enterprises. I hoped to find ads for seamstresses or finished needlework to sell, links to family in the dry goods business or mentions of Markeys in agricultural fairs. The Hummel/Markey women apparently did not look to sewing for any economic assistance. Their land and the various mills seem to have supported them better than sewing (a very underpaid job) would.

 Winebrenner's store, Fredericktown
 New York Public Library collection

I now conclude that Catherine Garnhart bought her family quilts, possibly as gifts for grandchildren, probably purchased in the Baltimore vicinity where a group of seamstresses were selling basted and/or finished blocks and quilts in the kind of workshop I was looking for in Frederick. This group of designers and seamstresses making the Garnhart group may predate the high-style Baltimore album group which dates from about 1845 to 1855 but it seems likely that the two types of quilts overlapped in the late 1840s.

Signature Garnhart eagle on left; typical Baltimore album eagle on right

Garnhart group basket and Baltimore album

The Garnhart quilts use cut-out chintz (Broderie Perse) techniques to achieve a composition of lush florals in a wicker basket. The BAQs use conventional applique cut from solids and smaller-scale prints to get the same look. The second technique would be far more time-consuming. But the simpler technique required an abundance of furniture chintz.

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Footed vases with white and red flowers
Design parallels here are remarkable.

Above wreaths in the center of Baltimore album medallion format quilts.
Below wreath in the center of a Garnhart group crib quilt from Stella Rubin's book.


Of course, it is likely the style also had common antecedents,
wreaths and floral baskets are evident in all manner of mid-19th-century
decorative arts.

Sheet music/New York Public Library

 As Nancy Gibson observed many years ago: 
the imagery is classic.

When chintz became old-fashioned and/or unobtainable, did the fancy goods professionals of Baltimore adapt compositions to the fabrics available? A change in techniques and yard goods but similar style?

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Or did consumers have a choice of styles? One could buy
an old-fashion chintz block from Ms. X or a more up-to-date
conventional applique block from Ms. Y?

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Garnhart group, DAR Museum
A block quilt with a central focus.
Old hat?

Baltimore album, Collection of Colonial Williamsburg
More up-to-date?

BAQ, Collection of the DeYoung Museum

Above, typical BAQ compositions, no strong central emphasis with a 5 x 5 block layout. New fabric, new techniques and new formats.

If we guess that Catherine Garnhart purchased her quilts (or her blocks) in or near Baltimore we have to conclude that Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia did the same. 

Market Street in Baltimore, the dry goods district, 1850

In the 1840s and '50s Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States. We can assume that women with money to spend on fancy goods would travel to the mid-Atlantic port from near (Frederick was 50 miles) and far.

DAR Museum Curator Alden O'Brien has traced three similar quilts to the same family who lived in New England, no connection to the Garnharts. It's not far fetched to guess that a Rhode Island woman would buy quilts from Baltimore.

Collection of the Plains Indian and Pioneer Museum

This quilt, which descended in the family of Catherine Garnhart's grandson John David Markey 1822-1898, has a family story that it was made for his birth in 1822 but style and fabrics do not support such an early date. It may have been a wedding gift for his 1842 marriage. It has much in common with the other family quilts but the overall design and some of the blocks have quite a different look explained by the change from chintz to calico in the available fabrics. It's just more up-to-date.

John and wife Margaret left Maryland for Muscatine, Iowa
in 1852, according to Margaret's obituary. Perhaps a going-away keepsake?

My theory: The Garnhart group of quilts are products of Maryland's commercial quiltmaking workshops. We can see these as a parallel style to the more abundant Baltimore album quilts. Catherine Garnhart, just one customer who purchased similar quilts, was a generous grandmother who could afford to buy some fashionable luxury gifts for her family.

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Shall we call the style  the Garnhart School?
Or the Frederick School?

Links to the other 5 posts:



Thursday, March 21, 2019

Garnhart Group of Quilts #5: Assumptions

 Vase chintz likely to date from 1835-1845

The fact that so many quilts descended in the families of Catherine Garnhart's 11 grandchildren has led family, curators and historians to conclude that Anna Catherine Markey Garnhart made quilts in a signature style in Frederick, Maryland from about 1820 to 1850, the years when her grandchildren were born. These exceptional bedcovers were handed down in her family for generations.

As Dorothy Cozart wrote in a 1986 paper on Catherine Garnhart for the American Quilt Study Group:

"Because of the regard held for these quilts it can now be documented that Anna Garnhart made a few outstanding quilts."
An Early Nineteenth Century Quiltmaker and Her Quilts

Collection Plains Indian & Pioneer Museum
Initially attributed only to Mrs. John Markey
Catherine's first husband was named David Johann Markey

This quilt is quite a bit different from the others but it has the same elements and descended in the family of grandson John David Markey, (1822 -1898) through his descendant Geneva Isabelle Covey Drake of Fargo, Oklahoma.

This basket in the Covey family quilt is a combination of chintz
applique flowers, conventional applique leaves and stems
and an unusual decorative design.

I remember being so impressed with Dorothy's linking of an Oklahoma museum quilt to the family despite the errors in the attribution "Mrs. John Markey." It is hard to keep track of one's great-grandparents given names since families often refer to ancestors as Grandma Markey. A photograph of Catherine in the Covey family collection is identified on the reverse:
"This is Sherman's great-great-grandmother, the one that made the eagle quilt." No name.

Grape wreaths with the Covey family's on the left---
Blocks in most of the Garnhart group do not have those conventional applique details
seen in the leaves in the center of #5.

The donor thought it had been made for Catherine's grandson John David's birth in 1822 and then given to his daughter. A note preserved in Geneva's Covey family dated 1901 from Catherine's aunt Anna Catherine Markey Mantz Jones described it as being made about 80 years ago (1820).

"Grandmother [Catherine] made it for [John David]...grandmother made us two girls one each." There really is nothing in the published note that indicates the quilt was given as a birth present, but somehow that story and that date has stuck with several of the quilts.


We have seen that the fabrics likely date the quilts to a decade or two later than that time frame, perhaps 1835 to 1850. Every "fact" in a family story must be checked against records and we have seen that names are wrong and assumptions are misinterpretations. Women in the mid-20th-century Covey family may have made quilts for birth gifts for their children---why wouldn't Catherine have done the same 130 years earlier? The crib quilts in the Garnhart group may have been intended for newborns but it is more likely the larger quilts were given as wedding gifts, coming of age gifts, or just a gift to even out the score---every grandchild gets a quilt at some time.

One of the New England group of eagle quilts

As Dorothy Cozart wrote: "It is not surprising that Catherine chose to make quilts. She had the leisure time and the money with which to buy the fabrics." So we need to examine the major assumption. Could one woman have made 11 quilts  (plus others like the one above) in those 15 years between 1835 and 1850?


Catherine Garnhart in 1840 was about 67 years old, a widow comfortably fixed in a substantial home in a large town with a son and an elderly mother living closeby. According to the 1840 census, Catherine was head of the household and living alone. Only one female is listed in her home.

Catherine had servants but apparently no slaves. She had eight surviving grandchildren, five by son David Markey II and his wife Susanna Bentz Markey and three by daughter-in-law Eliza Markey Thompson who was soon to be widowed for a second time. (Three more grandchildren by David were born in the 1840s.) She was born into a strong German culture and remained a German speaker all her life.

 Assumptions about her quilts are many.

1) She made a quilt for each grandchild, possibly at birth or marriage. Quilts descending in the Markey family are paired with grandchildren who were born from 1822 to 1847. Only one grandson, the youngest, did not marry. [David Jacob Markey came to an ignominious end in 1895 when he was killed in a fight on a Harper's Ferry boat dock.*]

2) The quilts are distinctive and can be recognized by her style.


3) She was an extremely skillful seamstress as seen in the delicate and abundant reverse applique.

Twins (?) at their needlework, about 1900.

4) She spent a good deal of time at this occupation. Turning out a minimum of about one quilt a year for 15 years would require countless hours with a needle in her hand appliqueing---to say nothing of time devoted to shopping for fabric, cutting small images from furniture chintzes, assembling various-sized blocks into a top, framing them with multiple borders and quilting several.

Once marketed as a "Mary Evans quilt"

Does this sound familiar? A woman living about 50 miles away in Baltimore at the same time once received the kind of credit that Catherine Garnhart has. If you have been looking at antique quilts for a while you may recall when Baltimore album quilts were assigned to a single creator. Mary Evans was considered the Rembrandt of the genre of high-style Baltimore Album quilts.           


You may also recall when Elly Sienkiewicz gave a paper at the American Quilt Study Group's 1989 seminar. "The Marketing of Mary Evans” argued against the one-woman/one-style concept in several ways. Elly's personal experience in re-making historical blocks requiring 50 hours for each was one thread of evidence. She asked a friend to count her hours in making an elaborate applique finding a  professional seamstress needs a year or more of forty-hour weeks to make one classic 104" square quilt No one person could have made the dozens and dozens (hundreds) of  Baltimore album quilts.

Block in a Baltimore album in the collection of the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Debby Cooney and Ronda McAllen recently gave a paper "Baltimore Album Quilts: New Research" at the 2017 AQSG Seminar, summarizing current thinking:
"It is very unlikely that one woman could have made the huge number of high-style blocks that are known all with hundreds of pattern pieces to be pinned, cut out correctly, positioned to overlap other pieces and basted in place in set schemes."

BAQ from the Cooney/McAllen collection

If Mary Evans did not sew the similar blocks who did? The theory today is that similar blocks were sold by several designers and/or seamstresses as basted kits, finished blocks and patterns---a school of Rembrandt, perhaps. Cooney and McAllen identify others associated with the quilts, among them Mary Simon, Maria Bond Wehner Williams, Elizabeth McKenney Sliver, Mary Chase and various milliners and proprietors of fancy goods shops. Hobbyists could have appliqued the pre-basted blocks themselves or purchased a finished block for a gift or their own quilt.


The Garnhart group attributed to Frederick, fifty miles from Baltimore, includes far fewer quilts than the Baltimore album group that Debby Cooney estimates as 400. But parallels between the Garnhart family quilts and the BAQs are too strong to continue to assume that one woman designed and stitched the quilts.


There has to be another logical origin story.
Was Catherine Garnhart a very good quiltmaker or a very good customer?
Tomorrow: Conclusions

*The younger David Jacob Markey was considered mentally ill and erratic. He was berating his boss ferry Captain George Leonard who hit him in the face. Markey fell down, hit his head and did not get up again. Leonard said he thought he was just drunk, so made his scheduled ferry trip. When he returned he was surprised to find himself arrested for murder. He served three years before his sentence was commuted by the Governor. David Jacob Markey was mentioned as coming from a nice family and indeed he did.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Garnhart Group of Quilts: #4 Pattern and Techniques

Crib quilt in a private collection.
Pictured in Stella Rubin's
How to Compare and Value American Quilts

Quilt in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum

Yesterday's post was about common fabrics found in the quilts attributed to Catherine Garnhart. Today's is about common patchwork patterns in the group. We mainly recognize the Garnhart group by the pattern blocks and how they are arranged into the quilts. This basket cut from a grid or plaid print is found in 5 of the quilts.


One of three quilts descending in the family of 
Hannah Thompson Woods


A closeup shows how cleverly the fabrics were cut.

We don't see a lot of conventional applique in these quilts. Cut-out chintz applique is the predominant technique.

Chintz applique: the design is cut from a furnishing fabric
and transferred to another background.

Do note the grape leaf at the bottom in the bird block is a third technique---reverse applique in which the background is cut away to reveal another fabric underneath. 

It's difficult to tell if the eagles are regular old conventional applique
or done in reverse.  I see a shadow indicating brown fabric under the white
 but it may just be a stain.

Eight of the quilts in the group feature eagles, some with patchwork shields...

Three almost identical quilts use pieced striped fabric for the shield.

From the quilt in the Brooklyn Museum. 

Reverse applique is a style signature of the group of quilts:

This quilt loaned to the DAR exhibit Eye on Elegance by the family features
 grape wreaths and a leafy border done in reverse applique.

Reverse applique can be detected in a photo by the slight shadow outlining the leaves here,
evidence of the green fabric under the white.


The shadowing is visible in these two grape leaf wreaths from the quilt donated by the family to the Plains Indian & Pioneer Museum in Oklahoma.

A different leaf found in two quilts

One of the hallmarks in the group is a reverse appliqued
border of trailing vines, cut in simple leaves.

Recognizable even in this poor photo of a quilt Florence Peto
pictured in American Home in 1938

And then there is a more complex reverse appliqued (?) vine border....
looks like it has a shadow under each leaf.


More complicated leaves are found in five of the group.

Piecework plays little part, although most of them have a border of triangles.



Some triangle borders may be pieced but it's possible they are appliqued, dogtooth style with triangles slashed in a strip---one clue to that is the identical fabric in each triangle in the border.

Green dogtooth detail in a basket

We also recognize these quilts by the overall style, the manner of combining blocks and borders.

They have a directionality. You usually have no doubt where the top of the quilt is.

The center larger blocks tend to have a direction and
they are placed in the same plane.

I analyzed the sets.

The style is so distinctive we think we recognize one 
in an 1845 fair display in New York City.

See the whole watercolor of the quilt display at the City Museum of New York.


And Mary Turley Robinson definitely captured one in her print of Nantucket arts in 1938. 

A diagram, in case you are looking for an applique challenge.

Tomorrow: Re-examining assumptions