Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Visiting the 1876 Centennial Fair

Quilt made of souvenir textiles from the Centennial celebration

What we'd call re-enactors showing old time crafts in costume
at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. The woman playing
Cat's Cradle with yarn wears a patchwork pocket.

Many quilts were influenced by the fair and its
textiles, but we know little about the displays
actually at the Exposition.

Mary Bayard Devereaux Clarke (1827 - 1886), a Raleigh, North Carolina native, visited the  Exposition in 1876 and wrote a series of articles for an unidentified home state newspaper, which she clipped in her scrapbook.

Ye Olde New England Log Cabin
adjacent to The New England Modern Kitchen
"September 24, 1876
I dined in the New England log house....and could hardly realize there were people who had never seen cotton-cards, a spinning wheel, or a quilt in a frame; but the crowd at the door of this house is so great that a policeman stands at the gate to keep them back, and only admit so many at a time. 

Photos are from a series of stereographic views of the fair showing the
"quaint architecture, antiquated furniture and the epochal costumes of the attendants."
"Inside it is just such a house as may be found anywhere in North Carolina, only the articles furnishing it are more battered and ancient than those found in our log cabins...

Costumed re-enactors in the yard for a photo, knitting and
perhaps stitching patchwork

Working with silk
The crib featured so prominently in the photos is now
in the collection of the Wadsworth Athenaeum. At
the time New Englanders liked to think it was brought over on
the Mayflower but it is of American wood.

"Beside the fire place is the quilting frame, and a young girl dressed in the costume of 1776 sits slowly quilting a patch work quilt which, like Penelope's robe, never gets done.
"What is this?" asked a fashionable dressed lady---just then---"An old fashioned ironing board?...To take up as little room as possible, the quilt was rolled up till not wider than an ironing board.
Shelburne Museum Collection
She may also have seen a whole cloth
quilt with this popular 1820s print
of the first Presidents or something similar.
 "On the bed in one room is a quilt that was stamped in France shortly after the Declaration of Independence, on it America is represented as laying on the altar of Liberty a number of medallions each bearing the likeness of a signer of the Declaration; the likenesses are all good."

Or perhaps this late 18th century toile memorializing
Benjamin Franklin

The Fair also had a large Women's Pavilion where quilts
were exhibited.

An Atlantic Monthly correspondent  described the log cabin with the same reaction to the quaint building as Mary Clarke
"It looks much like the log cabins with which any dweller in the Middle West is familiar...At the corner of the deep and wide fire-place sat Priscilla spinning---or some young lady in a quaint, old fashioned dress, who served the same purpose."
 Apparently log cabins weren't either quaint or historical to some people.

The New York Public Library has many of the stereocards on line:

Read a review of Mary Bayard Clarke's collected writing Live Your Own Life edited by Terrell Armistead Crow and Mary Moulton Barden:

See a preview here:


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