Thursday, November 16, 2017

Past Perfect: Elly Sienkiewicz

Odense Album, designed by Elly Sienkiewicz
70″ x 70″, 1989-1990.

Few people have had as much influence on quiltmakers and quilt style as Eleanor P. Hamilton Sienkiewicz.  Ever.

Elly at one of the Applique Academy sessions

When Elly published her first book Spoken Without a Word in 1983 much writing about quilts used words such as "lost art" with implications that masterpiece applique was a thing of the past.

 Album Quilt block made in Baltimore for Bernard Nadal, 1847.
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Contemporary quilters were too modern, too busy....too inept ? to maintain the standards of mid-19th-century artists.

Album quilt dated 1975

None of it was true. All that was needed were good patterns, good fabric and good instruction in handwork. Elly provided all three. Plus a lot of enthusiasm.

Elly's patterns are little works of art in themselves.

Elly started her career in quilts with a mail-order
fabric company that (despite its name) specialized
in solid color cottons---an elusive item in the 1980s.

Want to learn hand applique or improve your
techniques? Buy this book.

Detail from Odense Album

Elly's influence has been an ever-widening circle. 
She's taught many who have become skilled applique teachers
themselves. I found this block by a student of a student.

Recent block by Tresa Jones of Seneca, Kansas.

Although she has retired, thirty-five years later Elly's influence continues.

Elly graduated from Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania with majors in history, art and education. She taught school, married Stan Sienkiewicz and raised three children in Washington, D.C.

As far as I know she has published 29 books. She has always had a lot to say and is a joy to listen to.

Through Tufts of 'Broidered Flowers, 2005-2009
 by Elly Sienkiewicz & Susan Kurth

Baltimore Album Quilt made for Joshua Young, 1840s,
Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia

Everyone knows her best as a fabulous applique teacher and pattern designer but she is also a quilt historian. Living in Washington gave her an opportunity to study the unique album quilts made in Baltimore in the 1850s and '50s. She has always been curious about pattern sources and how these quilts came to be made in such great numbers.

Her books index the traditional patterns as well
as update the look.

One of her accomplishments is a paper she gave about Baltimore Album Quilts at the American Quilt Study Group's 1989 seminar, demolishing the popular and profitable theory that one woman named Mary Evans stitched the quilts. "The Marketing of Mary Evans” argued against the one-woman/one-style concept in several ways.

From an Elly quilt

My favorite argument was her personal sewing experience in re-making the historical blocks. She said she spent about 50 hours on a typical block. A friend counted her hours in making a 72-inch elaborate appliqued quilt, demonstrating that a professional seamstress needs a year or more of forty-hour weeks to make one classic BAQ of 104 square inches. No one person could have made the dozens and dozens of BAQ's.

Happiness is the Journey, 2007
By Elly Sienkiewicz Applique’ Academy and others; 
machine quilted by Susan Mallett with Sue Nichols

Elly's quilts are usually group
projects with her designs and supervision
(because no one person can make all the quilts she has planned.)

The theory today that similar blocks were sold by several designers as unstitched kits and patterns owes a lot to Elly's willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom in the antique world at the time.

Odense Album was designed by Elly and
stitched by a group of her students and friends.
The pattern is in The Best of Baltimore Beauties Part II

Elly's most recent book is Spoken Without a Word — 30th Anniversary Revised Edition, a 2014
re-do of her first book, the 1983 Spoken Without a Word. The new edition incorporates the text of the original but this version is illustrated in full color. Included are the Lexicon of Symbols, Antebellum Patterns, Baltimore Album History and her Revivalist Baltimore Album Quilt Gallery.
The 1983 edition was black and white and featured
short essays on Victorian symbolism in the BAQs.

See a preview of the recent book here:

From the recent book

Read "The Marketing of Mary Evans,” Uncoverings 1989, Volume 10 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, Edited by Laurel Horton.

Karen Pessia, My Baltimore Journey
from the 30th Anniversary edition of
Spoken Without a Word

Monday, November 13, 2017

Antique Quilt Exhibits: Winter & Spring 2018

Get that automobile in working order and pack it for a road trip.

California, Folsom
Folsom Historical Society. Fine Art of Piecemaking. January 20 - April 16th, 2018.

California, Pasadena
Huntington Library. Becoming America: Highlights from the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection. The Fieldings' new wing exhibits objects from their folk-arts collection including quilts. Their focus: American ingenuity in art for utilitarian purposes by craftspeople in 18th & 19th century rural New England. Through October, 2019.

California, San Diego
Mingei Museum of Folk Art. Kantha, 40 Indian pieces made from recycled sari decoratively stitched. Through March 25, 2018.

California, San Jose
San Jose Quilt Museum. Expressions of Identity. 40th Anniversary Exhibition, new acquisitions. Through January 14, 2018.

Florida, Lake Eustis
Lake Eustis Museum of Art. Quilts: The Fabric of History featuring a private collection with quilts from the early-mid 19th-century into the early 20th. January 5 - February 10, 2018.
Indiana, Indianapolis
Indianapolis Museum of Art. Crazy Quilts: Stitching Memories. Through January 7, 2018

Indiana State Museum. Lincoln in Quilts: Log Cabins, Flags and Roses. Featuring a quilt made by his cousin in 1827; those directly associated with Lincoln through the use of campaign ribbons, silks from Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses & those of her friends; Civil War quilts; and memorial quilts as well as a range of campaign and other textiles. Nov. 4, 2017 through Feb. 19, 2018.

Illinois, Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago. Making Memories: Quilts as Souvenirs. 27 visually captivating and technically masterful quilts from the permanent collection, ranging from 1840 to 2001. Through March 18, 2018.

Iowa, Winterset 
Iowa Quilt Museum. Feed Sack Quilts. January 3 – April 15, 2018 

Kentucky, Bowling Green

Elizabeth Richardson Quilt Gallery at Western Kentucky University. Backward & Forward: 20th Century Quilts. More than 30 quilts and wall hangings illustrate how Kentucky quiltmakers looked to both the past and to the future for inspiration. Through December 15, 2017.

Kentucky, Paducah
National Quilt Museum. Quilts of the Lakota. Curated by Ashley Pourier. On loan from the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School. Through January 16, 2018. 

Massachusetts, Lowell
New England Quilt Museum. Gilding the Lily: Embroidery in Quilts ​Past and Present. Through December 30.

Nebraska, Lincoln
International Quilt Study Center & Museum/Quilt House.
Block by Block: American Quilts in the Industrial Age. Curator: Janice Frisch. Through November 30, 2017.
Red & White Quilts from the IQSCM Education Collection. Through November 22, 2017.
Made by Hand: American Quilts in the Industrial Age II. January 5-April 29, 2018
Uncovered: The Ken Burns Collection. January 19-May 13, 2018.

New York City
American Folk Art Museum. War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics. Through January 7, 2018. 29 quilts made by men using British uniform wools.

North Carolina, Winston-Salem
Stitching a Southern Identity. MESDA's annual spring textile conference: March 16-17, 2018

Ohio, Cincinnati
Taft Museum of Art. Elegant Geometry: British & American Mosaic Patchwork Quilts. Traveling Exhibit from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. Through January 21, 2018.

Ohio, Columbus
Columbus Museum of Art. Botanical Wonders: Flower Figure Quilts 1850-1950 From The Donna And Rodney Wasserstrom Collection. Showcasing a recent donation. Through March 11, 2018.

Pennsylvania, Doylestown
Mercer Museum. Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, An African American Quilt Scholar. January 13 - April 15, 2018.

South, Carolina, Charleston
Charleston Museum. Piece by Piece: Geometric Quilts, featuring pieced quilts from their estimable collection. Through May 31, 2018.

Tennessee, Knoxville
East Tennessee Historical Society. Stories in Stitches: Quilts from the ETHS Collection. Curators Jan Wass and Merikay Waldvogel. Through January 2, 2018.

Texas, LaGrange
Texas Quilt Museum. Comfort and Glory: Antique Quilts from the Dolph Briscoe Center. January 11-April 1, 2018.

Utah, Brigham City
Brigham City Museum promises a Vintage Quilt Exhibition from the community. Jan. 20 -April 13, 2018.

Virginia, Harrisonburg
Virginia Quilt Museum. Treasures from the Vault: Quilts from the VQM Collection, Elegant Stitches. Curated by Gloria Comstock. Focus on quilting from 18th & 19th-century Virginians. Through December 16, 2017.

Virginia, Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. A Century of African-American Quilts features twelve quilts from the collection dating from 1875. Through January, 2018.
Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and the Home, 1700-1820 includes a few quilts (one with a John Hewson panel) and a lot of early fabric

Washington, LaConner
Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum. Patriotic Stitches from the Collection. Curated by Susan J. Torntore,  Through November 19, 2017​

Friday, November 10, 2017

Nine Blocks: Same Nine Blocks

From Freeman's Auctions

How were quilt patterns passed around in the 19th century?
One clue is in this sampler, which is quite a bit
like the sampler below. Both are from online auctions
over the past few years

From eBay seller Gurley

Once I find a pair of twins I often notice more,
and in the case of this nine block sampler---several more


Very much like the one at the top of the page.
Anita Schorsch pictured this in her book
Plain & Fancy: Country Quilts of the Pennsylvania Germans.

Collector Sara McLane noticed the similarity to
one she owns.

The arrangement varies in each as does the border
but the central block is remarkably consistent.

It's not a common design. We could describe it
as roses with reverse applique around a central
flower and buds, arranged in four-way mirror-image symmetry,
the formal structure often seen in American appliques.

From Sara McLane's

The other blocks are usually based on different symmetries.
This floral sprawls in a more naturalistic manner.

The blocks with two-way symmetry frame the center block
in rather graceful fashion making a well-designed layout for the nine blocks.

Another slashed rose with a slashed cockscomb &
reverse applique---this one from the eBay seller. 
Notice the heavy embroidery around
this block. It seems to be a late-19th-century example
by the fabrics and multi-strip border.

And then there are the baskets.

I mentioned that there are clues in these coincidental quilts
but how can we read them?

The words well-designed seems one clue. I'm guessing that some
talented woman somewhere sold either the patterns or the blocks or
the kits to make into blocks. She might have taught needlework
or had a pattern business....

Like the designers of the high-style blocks in Baltimore albums
in which we see the same blocks in the same fabrics made by
various seamstresses.

A Baltimore album in the collection of the International
Quilt Study Center and Museum dated 1847.

From the quilt at the top of the page.

From a BAQ in Joyce Gross's collection at
the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas.