Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Looking for the Garden Quilt: The Original

My start on the Garden quilt. We were going to have two of these quilts for the book The Garden Quilt: Interpeting a Masterpiece. I didn't get too much further than this. I'll show more pictures another day. I AM going to finish it. I don't have the affection for making grapes that some people do.

The original Garden quilt was pictured in Ruth Finley's 1929 book and it inspired many quilters to draft the pattern and applique their own versions.
From the Garden quilt file:
Snapshots of two mid-20th-century versions of the Garden.
On the left Pine Eisfeller's, 
the right unknown maker from Shelly Zegart's collection.
See a better photo of Pine's here:


The "exquisite quilt" in the black and white photo above was, according to Finley, made by Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen, a minister's wife in Cortland, New York, who finished it in 1857 after years of work and "millions of tedious stitches." Mrs. Edward Irish, who loaned the quilt for photography, recalled her Great-Aunt as an artist who also worked on paper, crafted hair jewelry and did "all the various kinds of fancy work in vogue at the time."

We had no luck in a search for Arsinoe or her original quilt despite reading Finley's papers, contacting the New York quilt project and looking at years of photos of antique quilts for sale. We did genealogical work on any Bowens or Irishes in the two towns of Cortland, New York (upstate and down). Our project languished until the internet age. 

At last I've found the quilter if not the quilt. A web search for the unusual name Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen leads to a New York minister's wife.  

Arsinoe was a royal name in Egypt.

Arsinoe Kelsey was born in December, 1812, in Smyrna, New York, in the far western part of the state between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania. 

In 1838 she married Henry Bowen who eventually became minister at the Baptist Church in Skaneateles, a town in the Finger Lakes region. [There is another New Yorker---Henry C. Bowen, a famous for getting tangled up with minister Henry Ward Beecher, but this is not the same man.)

This may have been Henry Bowen's last church,
still standing in Skaneateles.

We find no records of children. Indeed the only other fact available now is that the couple died within forty-eight hours of each other in 1868 in Skaneateles. She died on November 12th at 45; he on the 14th at 59.  This caused a problem with Henry's will which left property to his wife, who had predeceased him---so there is a court record of a contest.

Since writing the book on the Garden quilt I've found a little more about Arsinoe's homes. Here's a record of Baptist ministers from 1852 suggesting that Henry Bowen did live in Cortlandville. The history of Cortland Village (Cortlandville) mentions he was minister at the Baptist Church there from 1851 to 1861.
 Skaneateles by Fanny A. Coney (1814–1838)
from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.
See the whole painting here:

Arsinoe and Henry each had many siblings with many children who might have married a man named Irish. We can just hope The Garden still holds the admiration of today's owner and that someday the "exquisite quilt" that has inspired so many copies will surface again.

Josephine Craig's version of the Garden
in the collection of the Kansas Museum of History.
Read more here:

  The Rochester Museum and Science Center
 has one by Verna M. Sutherland and her mother
Bertha Garrett, 1948.
See it here:
See a page of Kelseys from Smyrna New York here


Marge Martin said...

Interesting info on the quilt. One comment on the NY county map. Onondaga County is north of Cortland and includes the city of Syracuse. You show it to the east of Cortland. I grew up in Onondaga county and the map just didn't look correct to me.

Barbara Brackman said...

I think I'll lose the map. It's really hard to figure out counties from 19th century geography if you don't live there.
Thanks for the correction!

Marge Martin said...

This is the map site I looked at http://www.digital-topo-maps.com/county-map/new-york.shtml.
Didn't mean to make you take it off. It is hard to determine counties tho.

WoolenSails said...

Your block is beautiful, I have no patience for designs that have to be centered properly, lol. I tried one and made a mess.


Patricia said...

Hello from Skaneateles, New York. I will go to the local historical society on Tuesday (where I volunteer) and do a little research on these families. I'll let you know what I can uncover. Also, if you would like any more current photos of the places you are picturing, just let me know.

We just had the most beautiful white on white trapunto quilt made in 1853 on display at the historical society. The maker was from Glen Haven, NY, at the southern tip of Skaneateles Lake where hydrotherapy was practiced from 1857-1911.

Central New York is filled with luminaries of the 19th century and it is a great place to live if you love history.

I'll keep you posted...

Jeanne said...

I have a 500 piece jig saw puzzle called "Paradise Garden Quilt" that resembles the Garden Quilt. Is there a connection?

Patricia said...

The obituary for Mrs. A.K. Bowen and Henry Bowen appear in the Democrat Paper, 11/19/1868. Both were ill prior to their deaths of different afflictions and both were in constant pain.

Rev. Bowen was pastor at the First Baptist Church for a short period of time.

What I thought was fascinating was the "remains of both were borne to the cemetery and deposited in the same grave."

They are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the village in Section 9 plot 199. I was thinking I'd go there and snap a picture of the grave. A friend suggested I leave some flowers and fabric.

El Desván de la Gata Perezosa said...

I like your blog

Unknown said...

Barbara, are you aware of the Cottage Garden quilt at the IQSC, which is currently on exhibit? It very much was inspired by the Bowen quilt. The maker is unknown and should you be interested, the IQSC reference number is 2009.039.0033.