Sunday, June 28, 2015

Folk Art Fakery

The Quilt Detective doesn't get many shady cases.

But there's some forgery---- or perhaps just misrepresentation--- that's been going on in the antique quilt market for over a decade. The code of the detective requires we solve this case.

Quilt offered at Cowan's Auctions June, 2015, auction

"American. A child's quilt with calico patches and 
African-American figures."

The auction house grouped this quilt with another small quilt and a piece of needlework.
Estimated value for all three: $75 - $150. The description and price seems accurate for a recent tied, mini-quilt.

Another version.

Here's a third example in a recently ended online auction.

 Bidding was
to begin at $475. Here's the auction description:

23 1/2" W X 32 1/2"L




Fortunately nobody bid on it.

In 2004, Darwin posted a note on the Quilt History List about one that sold after brisk bidding in an online auction.
"I agree that this piece is not very old. There were a lot of these floating around about 10 years ago. Well, I guess they have a little age but are they worth the price?"
What kind of price? One of my students brought one to class about 15 years ago. She was quite proud of this piece of African-American folk art for which she had paid $1,000.

What's it worth?
I hadn't the heart to tell her: "About $35."---whatever a small, tied, comforter in a "primitive" pattern copied from an old quilt would be worth.

I did tell her that these little primitives are quite common. Note how many I've found at auction on this page. The fabrics look to be about 1990--lots of cranberries and blues that were popular in those years. 
A fourth version

The prints and the white plain muslin have been tea-dyed front and back to look old.

I've only seen tied versions, no quilted pieces. Most have this same distressed cotton backing.
Are these coming from the same source?

To anyone with a good eye, these fabric don't look early 20th century. 

The prints look like 1980 fabrics, bleached-out and tea-dyed, a technique I used to teach before reproduction prints were available.

I indexed the pieced human figure in BlockBase and my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns as BlockBase #940.5: "Unnamed from quilt ca 1900 in Bishop's New Discoveries."

The 1975 book pictured a variety of
collectible quilts from dealers, collectors and museums.

Here's a snapshot of page 54.

"Pieced Quilt, southern Missouri, c 1900, 
73-1/2" x 71" (America Hurrah Antiques)"

Could this pieced design actually be a circa 1900  quilt?
There is a small category of vintage quilts with pieced humans.

But I didn't find many published pieced figures to index. This nine patch
from the Ladies Art Company catalog in 1898, Oklahoma Boomer,
recalls the land rush in Oklahoma.

See more about Block Lotto's 2009 version of the Oklahoma Boomer here:

University of Nebraska collection from the Quilt Index,
about 1930

Above,  an early 20th-century quilt which
is probably a sampler of Ladies' Art Company patterns.
There's an Oklahoma Boomer block on the left side.

So let's assume the original quilt in the 1975 book is an authentic antique.

We know the source for the original. But what about the copies?

  • Are these forgeries made by one person? 

  • Or is it a pattern sold and then stitched by people who love a pseudo-folk-art look?

We need some crowd sourcing on these questions.
  • Have you ever made one of these?

  • Where did the pattern come from? 

I've looked and cannot find a similar pattern for sale now, used or new. My friend Bettina remembers it as a commercial pattern from the 1980s but....

Looking forward to the comments.


Debbie said...

I had a friend that made a little piece out of that pattern. She only put 3 blocks in hers. It must have been a commercial pattern.

Barb Robson said...

I have a pattern that I probably bought in the late 70's early 80's. It was published by Country House Quilts in Zionsville, IND. I took pictures of it and will send them to you by email. I don't think I can attach a picture to a comment?

YankeeQuilter said...

I remember this pattern! Also saw it being sold at craft fairs in the mid to late 80 near Atlanta...I only remember because a friend had bought the pattern and asked me to make one for her then bought one made at a fair (saving me the project!)

dls said...

My friend, June Cero, owned Country House Quilts in Zionsville, IN. I will check with her about this block.

......Thimblefolk.......Barb McNamara said...

I have one of these little quilts hanging on my wall…..I bought it in a gift shop in the 80's as a new piece.

cynthia collier said...

I remember it too. I made it a few times and sold it at craft fairs in Tennessee in the mid 80s. I don't remember the pattern maker or name it was marketed under though. I hope mine are not part of the fraud being done now!

andsewon said...

These small wall quilts were sold at many folk art craft shows along with the black dolls and the faceless Amish dolls popular at the time. 1980's early '90's.

Barbara Brackman said...

Good work, quilt detectives. I'll do another post soon.

Lizzy D said...

I own one. I thought they were sold at the Museum of American folk art in the gift shop. Mine may even be marked that. Have to dig it out. I bought it at a flea market 15 years ago for 4.oo.

Susan said...

Very interesting. I have that pattern from the late 1990's. Never made it but for some reason I kept it.

Kim in ND said...

I noticed these on ebay. I couldn't believe it. In my shop, we bought them to sell--they were made in Haiti. I don't remember the name of the company that imported them, but they were definitely a commercial enterprise. Several companies were taking advantage of the talest and need for cash of Haitian artisans at that time.

Barbara Brackman said...

Kim---that would explain the abundance of almost identical quilts. Thanks.

Lorraine said...

I THINK that Cheri Saffiote-Payne did one of these? I'll send her a link to this page and ask her.

Unknown said...

I remember that pattern. I was so excited that I could make something "folk arty" as I had no art background and did not have a clue as to what folk art was even! I made several and sold them at craft shows in the 80's. I am constantly amazed at people who have no problem lying to people and taking advantage of them.

Michele McLaughlin said...

I found one once at the local flea market years ago. Same style and fabrics, the backing was an attempt to simulate a feedsack backing. Price: $7 Purchased it for Quilt Study group to discuss the same topic and then gave it away. I've seen two other since then and that was at least 10 years ago. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I made one of these in the early 1990s. I took a class at a local quilt shop from a teacher who was later featured in numerous editions of a national quilt magazine. The teacher was insistent that design was not historically accurate. It was simply a cute, primitive loking quilt.

Wendy Caton Reed said...

I have seen 3 over the past 25 years or so. One was in a second hand store with a modest price tag and no fraudulent information. The second was in an antique store with a tag reading "rare antique quilt" and a price tag to match. Fortunately, I know the store owner and brought it to her attention. It is a store with 20 or more dealers and she immediately took it down and attached the note that I wrote out for her explaining what it really was. No harm done. The third belongs to a dear friend of mine. She showed me the quilt when I first met her over 15 years ago. She is now 91 years old and has been buying at auctions for over 60 years. At the time I didn't know her well enough to tell her all that I know about these reproductions, but it was clear by my reaction that it was not what she thought she had purchased. As the years went on and she learned more about antique quilts (she is very knowledgeable about other textiles) she brought it out again and we had a good laugh over my courteous reaction the first time. She chalked it up as "lesson learned". Just this weekend at the Vermont Quilt Festival, someone at our table mentioned the "Underground Railroad" quilts. Same old shudder reaction and then a pleasantly narrated quilt history lesson. Amazing to me how so much damage could be done in such a short period of time. Thanks for bringing this one to light again.

gaye ingram said...

Love your choice of detective photos!

Anonymous said...

I too own this pattern from the early 1980's (no copyright date). It's called "Southern Mammy Quilt" 28" x 28". Inside are directions for tea-dying and "quick child-like quilting" with string. I made a block of it using templates (yes, I made plastic templates!) and it went together rather quickly and accurately. The publisher requested more info on the design in order to give credit to the original maker. It would be interesting to know if she ever heard anything.

Vikki W.

Anonymous said...

I just saw one of these at a local flea market about a week ago. I, too remember the pattern. It was labeled "antique". Ha! I think it's so sad to see so many foreign, packaged quilts from the 80s and 90s being labeled as antiques. My friends don't sew or quilt and always get excited when they spot one :(

Anonymous said...

I own a similar quilt. One night after browsing the internet, I came across a quilt created by Stephen Blumrich (1941-2015), a German American Artist. The piece, I believe, was titled, "Black Uncle Sam". The overall design reminded me of the quilt I own. This immediately prompted me to Google his name. No sooner after hitting search, did several examples of the quilt I own appear. Many were stamped with his name and a copyright date from the 1980's. Not valued at much, but the subject matter is good. Blumrich was believed to have applied tea the quilt backing to make it appear aged. My husband and I plan to take the one that came framed apart to see if it is stamped with the artist's name and copyright date.