Friday, September 28, 2018

Oscar Crazy Quilts #2: Portraits

Quilt with a sunflower/daisy border and a portrait of Oscar Wilde.
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.

This is a true "Oscar Quilt" depicting the long-haired lecturer
in profile.

Oscar's witty lectures advocated sunflowers and embroidered pillows (according to the New York Times in 1882). Americans responded with Oscar quilts featuring sunflowers, calla lilies and embroidery.

Noting the embroidered portrait of Oscar at the top of this post I wondered how many other crazy quilts contain a picture of the aesthete?

Is this Oscar in his knee breeches and patent leather shoes
with a couple of fans? Note the newspaper in his hand.
The detail is from the star quilt below.

I have no idea where I found this tattered crazy,
which reminded me of the quilt below in far better shape
shown in the last post.

Embroidered quilt by Lydia Pearl Finnell of Harrodsburg, Kentucky
Smithsonian Institution

No Oscar but plenty of aesthetic items, peacocks
and calla lilies.

Detail from Ann Wasserman's blog

When we look at these crazy quilts we tend to think of all males in knee pants as Kate Greenaway's
nostalgic illustrations. The children above probably are related to Greenaway's characters.

But look for this pair of knee breeches and patent leather slippers that
inspired a public relations coup in 1882.

Reading about Oscar Wilde on his American tour (and there is plenty to read) indicates it was a failure, as in this negative article from the Dodge City Kansas Times, calling him a "damphool." The male-centered press carps and carps about low attendance, bad lectures and the irrelevance of his sissy topic, but the evidence in the quilts from the early 1880s might be a better indication of just how successful Oscar Wilde's tour was.

Detail from a quilt in the McMinn County 
Tennessee Living Heritage Museum

UPDATE: Alden O'Brien, curator at the D.A.R. Museum did a little close looking at one of the crazy quilts in their collection and found a similar portrait. Perhaps you could buy a penny square pattern of the celebrity.

UPDATE: Louise mentioned in the comments a likely source for the portrait, an 1882 invitation to an Oscar event. This copy in the collection of the Preservation Society of Newport County:

Good work Louise!

UPDATE: And Louise has kept poking around and found the probable source for the two quilt profile portraits. The Kelly portrait was used in newspaper ads for the lectures. Here it is in a Tennessee paper. See her blog KwiltKeyes on embroidery here.

UPDATE: We are on a roll here. Louise keeps finding more Oscar information and she owns a crazy quilt with a standing Oscar portrait. See her post on that embroidery here:

So now we have four crazy quilts with Oscar Wilde portraits, two full length and two head profiles.


  1. You can be sure I will no longer "cringe" when a new crazy is brought to my attention as I will now be searching for "Oscarisms"!

  2. Between the last post and this, you have me curious. When I get home this evening, I have to look at one of my oldies.

  3. Fascinating! As are all your posts

  4. Was Oscar perhaps one of the gay men of that time? They seem to really go in for decorating if one is to believe the great number of whom have had tv shows or their decorating styles viewed on decorating shows.

  5. Looks like the Oscar image came from his 1882 lecture invitation paper see: https://www.newportmansions.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/bohemian-beauty/oscar-wilde-in-newport

  6. In doing a bit more research this morning, I found that the same image was used in newspaper ads for upcoming lectures Oscar was giving, see:

    Public ledger. (Memphis, Tenn.), 06 June 1882. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

    The image is based on a sketch done in January 1882 by James Kelley. You can find more on it at: http://oscarwildeinamerica.org/features/the-kelly-sketch.html

  7. For some reason the Public Ledger url did not show up, so here it is again: