Monday, April 15, 2013

Elizabeth Welch's Eagle Quilt

Medallion Quilt
Elizabeth Welch
Virginia. About 1830.
Collection of the Brooklyn Museum

The cover quilt on the new Brooklyn Museum catalog is very much like the work of Anna Catherine Markey Garnhart, particularly the eagle and the reverse appliqued vine.

See two quilts attributed to Garnhart from the collection of the Museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution:

Anna Catherine Hummel Markey Garnhart
Frederick, Maryland

Bobbi Finley's interpretation of the D.A.R.'s quilt
for an AQSG Quilt Study a few years ago.

My first reaction upon seeing the Welch quilt in the Brooklyn Museum's online catalog that it must be one of the Garnhart quilts. But there is some historical basis for the attribution to Elizabeth Welsh of western Virginia.

The Brooklyn Museum's quilt is pictured in William Rush Dunton's Old Quilts (1945) on page 216. He photographed Maryland quilts and included some from the collection or the family of Mrs. Louis Frederic Leiter. His information about the quilt:

"Another gorgeous appliqued quilt owned by Mrs. Leiter was made by Miss Elizabeth Weltch of Warren County West Virginia at an unknown time. Its size 9' ...wide and I would tentatively date it before 1830."

The first problem is there is no Warren County, West Virginia (which didn't separate from Virginia till 1863). Warren County, Virginia is west of Arlington and therefore close to Washington DC and Baltimore.

Pauline Eppley Leiter was what was known as an antiquarian.
Here a photo from the Baltimore Sun
shows her with a piece of silver.

Her husband worked for a Hagerstown department store.

My guess is that Pauline Leiter's quilt collection was sold sometime before her death in 1984. This quilt  wound up in the Brooklyn Museum in 1978.

Dr. Dunton added some more to his description of Elizabeth Welsh's quilt:
"It is of interest that a clipping from the New York Sun of January 20, 1937 shows a similar quilt owned by Mrs. Arthur Lindstrom of Cos Cob [Connecticut]. The eagle here has its head turned the opposite way, but is similar in form. There is no vine above it but there are thirteen stars. The vines at the corners have the same curves but the leaves are differently shaped. The chintz motifs do not show well in the reproduction."

Good eye, Dr. Dunton!

I found the clipping on line. Nothing shows well in the reproduction but I lightened it up and got a vague image of an eagle and a similar vine.

Welch quilt left/Lindstrom quilt right

Mrs. Joseph Peto was quilt dealer and scholar
 Florence Peto, who often sold her quilts to museums. 

So now we have several mysteries to solve.
  • Was Elizabeth Welch (Weltch) related to Anna Catherine Hummell Markey Garnhart?
  • Why did Pauline Leiter attribute her quilt to Welch?
  • Where is Mrs. Arthur Lindstrom's quilt now?
The curators at the D.A.R. Museum have been working on the puzzle for some time.

The big question, however, is:
How the heck did Anna Catherine Markey Garnhart make so many spectacular quilts?

Eagle from a Baltimore Album Quilt

The whole thing reminds me of the cult of Mary Evans. You may remember in the 1980s that many Baltimore album quilts of the 1840s and '50s were wrongly attributed to one woman identified as Mary Evans. Quilt historians now believe that several different seamstresses and pattern makers collaborated on those hundreds of quilts, with perhaps some dominant, well-established designers who sold patterns and probably kits to many different seamstresses.

Could we have here an earlier Maryland pattern drafter, a kit maker or a needlework teacher? Or perhaps, like Baltimore designer Achsah Wilkins, a woman supervising a group of seamstresses?

In the introduction to the Brooklyn Museum catalog I participated in the roundtable discussion much concerned with myths about quilts. Janneken Smucker raised a question about mythologizing quiltmaking as a form of expression and empowerment..."rather than acknowledging the role of professionals, of commerce, and of industrialization." 

I followed with: "Our default thinking when we see a quilt is 'one woman, one work of art.' We are repeatedly surprised to learn that quilts and handmade bedcovers have been produced in workshop-like situations. One surprising example is the workshop of Achsah Goodwin Wilkins of Baltimore...We have a hard time incorporating the story of Wilkins and her factory into our mythology about quilts."

Could we have here another surprising example of some kind of commerce and professionalism that doesn't fit our mythology?

Some links to more about Garnhart quilts:

Another Garnhart quilt in the Plains Indians & Pioneers Museum:

A blog post by Bobbi Finley

Some posts by me about early eagle applique.

An article in the Baltimore Sun about the Garnhart quilts. Nancy Gibson organized an exhibit of several similar quilts at the D.A.R. Museum in 1991.


Every Stitch said...

Very interesting - thanks Barbara. Must be fun trying to track down these mysteries! Stunning quilts too.

antique quilter said...

I plan a visit to the Brooklyn museum to see these quilts in person soon. I have always loved eagle quilts
thanks for such an informative post going to have to read all the links now you have me thinking and more curious!

Laura in IA said...

As I was reading your post it popped into my mind that there were needlework schools for girls early during the founding of the US. Cross-stitch and embroidery seem the most familiar to me, but was quilting also taught?

Anonymous said...

wow...what a true quilt historian you are! These are amazing quilts, and I can not even imagine ever sewing one as intricate as these~! They are priceless...even if you could put a price on them~! ♥♥♥

WoolenSails said...

I love eagle quilts and plan on making one of your simple ones this year. Hopefully I can get to some museums in the Boston area, would love to see the quilts up close.


Ila said...

Just out of curiosity...I know the direction of the eagle's head on the seal in the White House Oval Office rug changes direction if we're at war. Does this pertain to either of the quit dates?

Anonymous said...

I followed one of the links, and I read that in places, the federal eagle quilt is quilted with as many as 22 stitches per inch. I can hardly picture that but would love to see it...
Thanks for this post, beautiful quilts.

debby cooney said...

Find a grave has Pauline's death as 1934, same year as her husband, so her quilts may have hit the market before WWII. At least one published in Dunton is still hiding.

Taryn said...

The Garnhart quilts, whoever made them, are quite striking in the similarity of the incredible quality of workwomanship. It is interesting to me that Warren County is only about 60 miles from Hagerstown, MD (where Leiter's husband worked) and 90 miles from Frederick, MD where Garnhart lived. It is reasonable that Garnhart family members lived in the greater Hagerstown area as it is reasonable that associates of Garnhart lived in the region, too. Since the story about Garnhart quilts is that she made them for family members it seems finding a relationship between her and Welch would be crucial in unraveling the mystery here. My biggest question was always - how could Garnhart make so many incredible quilts. So, i would add to your questions: What was Garnhart's status and could she have household help that had high level stitching skills?

Judy said...

Sometimes I wish I could have lived in the 1870's. I like the fabric quality of today but love the traditional styles.