Thursday, July 19, 2012

Looking for Garden Quilts

Ilyse Moore, Paradise in Kansas, detail

Our new book The Garden Quilt features Ilyse Moore's interpretation of a quilt that Ruth Finley
showed in her 1929 book Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them.

The Garden Quilt was made in the mid-19th-century
by Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen of New York.

Finley defined The Garden rather loosely as "no actual pattern but rather an idea. No two Garden quilts were ever quite alike, though all have certain characteristics in common....All show a center medallion." Among the imagery: wreaths, flowers, birds, "festoons of ribbons or ropes, baskets, cornucopias and fruits."
Joyce and Cuesta in 1989

While quilters were inspired to copy The Garden, quilt historians were inspired to find more examples. For many years, my fellow Quilt Detectives Joyce Gross and Cuesta Benberry collected pictures of Garden quilts. We were never able to find the original and we never found similar quilts made before Bowen's quilt was published in 1929.

Paradise Garden by Betty Herriman

Every example we found, as in this picture from the magazine Ladies' Circle Patchwork Quilts, was made after Finley's book was published. Surely there are appliqué medallions from the nineteenth century, but do any of them qualify as "The Garden"?

Mid 19th-century quilt from an online auction

 Using Finley's rather loose description we looked for appliquéd medallions with ropes and ribbons, cornucopias and fruit cut from calico prints and Turkey reds.

Floral Applique by Emeline Travis Ludington (1820-1887)

This recent purchase by the Metropolitan Museum of Art might qualify but no fruit, no ropes, no ribbons. Intriguingly, it's from Carmel, New York (Putnam County.)

Here are the swags---with a border growing out of a pot.

Collection: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The same idea---different muse.

Rose Wreath by the Palmer Sisters
 in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution

Concentric rings with the pots in the corners. This quilt is also a New York quilt, made in Otsego County.
Read more: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object.cfm?key=35&gkey=169&objkey=9579

Here's the idea of a medallion of loops: Birds and Grapes
From the McCarl Collection
and the Western Pennsylvania Project at the Quilt Index

We noticed this quilt from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum published years ago by Rose Wilder Lane.

Cover for Quilt.  Brooklyn Museum,
Gift of Mrs. Tunis G. Bergen, 29.1154

 But this photo from their online collection pictures shows it's more a sampler than a Garden.

Odd Fellows Applique Album quilt, c.1850 by Mary Ann McCue,
 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA
The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg 
The Bridgeman Art Library     

Similar to the one above collected by the immortal Ima Hogg.

Ilyse Moore, Paradise in Kansas
I don't think we have ever found what Finley was describing. But the hunt has certainly been fun.

To read more about our book The Garden Quilt: Interpreting a Masterpiece, click on the book in the left hand column. It's 24 pages with pull-out sheet for the pattern. $16.95


  1. Whenever you post so many beautiful quilts, I just know I should be living Stateside. Thank you.

  2. It always amazes me to see the beautiful appliqué that they made in a time when supplies were limited and they worked by lamps.


  3. Did you ever think that Garden quilt in the Finley book looked more recent than mid-19th C.? Closer in style to Rose Kretsinger than the very rounded flowers of 19th C? I don't mean it is a Kretsinger, but maybe more 1910's or 20's in style? No Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen can be found in Ancestry in New York. Some Orson Bowens and Orson Kelseys Upstate, tho, mid-19th C. That search not very helpful. Thanks for showing us the beautiful collection of Garden quilts that did turn up in your searches.

  4. It's hard to believe but the Garden Quilt in Finley was in the 1939-1940 New York Worlds Fair. Can't link it but look in NYPL Digital Gallery. Search "quilt" + worlds fair or just quilt for a photo. It's possible the NYPL has more records on this.

  5. My daughter's great-great-grandmother Katurah Davis Tooley finished a Garden Quilt in San Francisco in 1938, clearly based on Finley's pattern (or source) but with lighter more curvilinear flowers and a very 1920s look in some ways. Her birds were definitely cardinals, and the flowers included bleeding heart. While she spent her later years in San Francisco with her daughter, she was born in Brunswick Missouri.

  6. Just realized that you have a picture of Kate's quilt, which we have --but it is Kate Tooley, not Kate Tolley.