Friday, October 6, 2023

Nelle Peters Architect/Quilt Designer


Ebay picture a few years ago

Cindy recently found this quilt and had a question about the pattern.

The earliest publication is the September, 1930 pattern in the Kansas City Star,
when Eveline Foland was drawing and writing the quilt column.

Rather than the usual "old, old pattern" Foland drew a new one based on a design sent by Nelle Peters, a Kansas City architect, quite successful in her career in the 1920s. Foland named the double hexagon Boutonniere.

Nelle Nichols Peters (1884-1974)

60 degree diamonds and hexagons....fun to play with.

When the pattern was printed the Great Depression was almost a year old and Nelle must have had time on her hands with no new building commissions. She wrote Foland:
"Some of us have been playing with the adorable quilt patterns this winter and have so many pretty prints left from our collection for the French Bouquet [an earlier Foland design.] I thought it was a shame not to use such a collection of another and 'invented' the pattern enclosed." 

Pastel plains and prints

 As professional women in the arts Foland and Peters may have known each other through the social clubs of the time. It looks like Peters worked with a group of friends making quilts using the newly fashionable dress prints and pastel solids in variations of what were then called Grandmother's Flower Garden. 
Foland's French Bouquet

Nellie Nichols was born in the North Dakota Territory to a New York mother and father from Ohio. After graduating from Iowa's Buena Vista College she combined her artistic and mathematical skills into an architectural career, taking a correspondence course that landed her a job with a Sioux City firm, which transferred her to Kansas City in 1907. Two years later she established her own business and in 1911 married William H. Peters. 

Ad in the Kansas City Times, 1930

After twelve years of marriage, the Peters divorced in 1923 and she was able to devote her time to her craft. She spent the prosperous twenties designing hundreds of buildings in the Great Plains.

1922 sketch of apartments, her specialty, near Brush Creek Plaza.
Spanish style design was coordinated with J.C. Nichols's (no relation)
plan to build a Spanish-style shopping plaza nearby.

Doorway to the Cezanne Apartments,
still standing near the County Club Plaza
in the Nelle E. Peters Thematic Historic District.
She made good use of Kansas City's popular terracotta ornament.

Architect Amy Slattery and architectural historian
Cydney Millstein in a Nelle Peters entranceway
at the Luzier Cosmetics Building.

I've long noticed this distinctive Kansas City style of apartment building with stacked balconies, which Cyd Millstein & Linda Becker call the "Colonnaded Kansas City Apartment." I hadn't seen any history of this unique style (we have some in Lawrence too) until I did a little research on Nelle Peters. I bet she had much to do with the regional style. See a reference to their work below.

1979 biography

The depression in the 1930s put Nelle's prosperity and professional career on hold. Biographies tell us that during the 1930s she needed money and lived on an income as a seamstress (the old fall-back employment for women.) I wonder what she sewed. She was reported to be quite talented at dressmaking ---but perhaps quilts....

Here's a pattern for the Foland/Peters collaboration design.

Two Boutonniere quilts from the Nebraska project and the Quilt Index,
one in the thirties prints Nelle recommended and the other from 1978, made
by Hatti Von Seggern Johannes who had access to a different style of cotton.

See: Linda F. Becker and Cydney E. Millstein, "Colonnaded Kansas City. Apartment Buildings"

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