Friday, October 19, 2018

Kate Clayton Donaldson's Appliqued Textiles

Appliqued crocheted piece by Kate Clayton Donaldson
Sold at Case Antiques

I've long been intrigued by this photograph in the Library of Congress, which has been posted for several years without any identification. Lately, though, the artist is identified as Kate Clayton Donaldson who did the piece above. The photograph was taken by Doris Ulmann about 1934 for a series she did with Allen Eaton for the 1937 book Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands.

Just what was in that cardboard box? And is the woman making a quilt?
 I now realize that the box is full of crocheted figures.

She is not making a quilt but rather an appliqued picture.

John C. Campbell Folk School,Hunter Library Digital Collections,
 Western Carolina University

Catharen Clayton of Cherokee County was born in Kentucky on April 19,1870 and died on August 1, 1960 according to her tombstone and death certificate.

Collection of the American Museum of Folk Art

Her method seems to be chain-stitching motifs and then assembling them onto a small piece of coarsely woven wool or linen. A prominent tree and some free-form animals link the work to traditional Indo-European imagery.
UPDATE: Dot commented: "The figures look to be made with a double crochet stitch, not chain stitch. Some of the wider vines are also one row of double crochet; others may be chain stitch."

This piece in the collection of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild is
31 inches wide.

Collection of the Asheville Art Museum

She may have dyed the yarns in the figures and the backgrounds herself.

Because it is "folk art" the thought is she was using "natural dyes" but the way the colors are fading looks more like the synthetics in the packaged dyes that were readily available in North Carolina in the 1930s.

From a Brunk Auction

Kate and her story illustrate a point about our attitudes towards the makers and the work. She is considered a folk artist but she was also a commercial artist. There are several origin stories about how she began creating her small compositions.

John C. Campbell Folk School today. It was
founded to teach marketable craft skills to local residents.

The probable truth is that in the early 1930s she was working in the kitchen of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, 10 miles from her home in Marble. Her grandson Hayden Hensley was a student at the school in the late 1920s, learning woodcarving.

She had stitched crocheted figures to an old baby blanket and liked the results well enough to show it to the people in charge of the adult education center. They were impressed, saw the commercial viability of the small piece and encouraged her to make more to sell.

Donaldson & Allen Eaton
Eaton's mission was to link crafts and rural traditions
to provide an income for Southerners.

She met Allen Eaton of the Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild, a cooperative marketing crafts. He and Doris Ulmann interviewed and photographed mountain artists for their survey in 1933 & 1934.

That may be Eaton in the Doris Ulmann photo of Donaldson
showing him how she works.

The alternative, folky version of the story is that her work was inspired by "cow blankets" created by women in Italy. The caption at the Asheville Art Museum:
"Many parallels have been made between the cow blankets of Granny Donaldson and the Po Valley fashion blankets made by women in Italy. In Italy, the blankets are used to proclaim the spirit of life and are worn by cows during festivals. Donaldson never heard of the Italian cow blankets and says that she didn't own a cow when she began her first blanket, although rumors still remain that she copied the Italian blankets for her cow, Bessie."

Another version is that she made an appliqued blanket to keep her cow warm. This piece of functional art was noticed by a passing art lover.

The culprit in the cow blanket story may be a feature writer named Bill Sharpe, "Steeped in the Lore of North Carolina," who published an article in the Washington Star on March 2, 1946 with a few paragraphs on Donaldson and her cow blankets.

In this story a passerby noticed Bessie the cow clad in a Donaldson blanket and the rest was history---or folklore---or what people wanted to hear about North Carolinians at the time. Do note another folky touch in that she is known as Granny Donaldson. How come men artists are never known as Grampy Bill Traylor?

The textiles are fun to look at and there are a lot of them in the folkart market over the past years.

Here's one from a Slotin Folk Art Auction in 2011
And the caption:
"Farm Animal Pictorial Wall Hanging. c. 1980's. Knitted and hooked yarn on cotton backing. A few minor holes, otherwise great condition. 27" x 34"h. Provenance: Sally Cathey's Blue Ridge Weavers, NC, a copy of the envelope that Granny Donaldson used to send the work to Sally Cathey accompanies the piece. Est. $500-800."
Didn't "Granny" die in 1960?

Little Brasstown Baptist Cemetery

Donaldson at work with a crazy quilt on her chair.

Don't call them cow blankets and don't call her Granny, unless, of course you want to set my teeth on edge.

Read about Allen Eaton and his influence on the ideas of folk art and the arts and crafts movement:

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Maryland Quilt Show at AQSG

Detail of a Baltimore Album quilt in the collection of
Debby Cooney & Ronda McAllen

When I heard that the American Quilt Study Group was meeting
in Maryland in 2018 I knew I was going.

They made some pretty spectacular quilts in Maryland and I knew those Maryland quilt historians would hang some show-stopping examples.

These are all details from Debby & Ronda's BAQ

The woman behind the quilt show, Debby Cooney

Debby found a few albums

And showed a couple of her own collection. This is a crib quilt

I had no idea how small the reverse applique feather was until I saw it in person.

Early medallion center detail

I photographed the labels, which were quite informative
so here's a blurry example

Framed Center Medallion
About 1825
Collection of William Hearn

Private Collection
About the same time.

Reverse Appliqued Wreath
Reverse of the reverse appliqued wreath

In an album top

Peonies from the collection of Brian & Donna Ruppert

With a chintz border

Open Wreath dated 1846 by Carrie L. McCoy of Baltimore

Silk Windmill Blades signed by Mary Kroeger of Baltimore
About 1879. Collection of Stella Rubin

Crib Quilt of chintz swags and laurel leaves
Another from Stella Rubin Antiques

Medallion initialed T.A.C. from Worcester County, Maryland,
Collection of Julianne Hardy

Whitework piece also from Julianne Hardy's collection

Touching Stars with stuffed work quilting
About 1840
William Hearn Collection

Thanks to Debby and the lenders for a show worth the trip.