Friday, August 2, 2013

Anna Catharine Garnhart: By Alden O'Brien

Workt By Hand, 
the quilt show at the Brooklyn Museum, 
is closing September 15, 2013.

Eagles and Vases and Vines, Oh My!

A Guest Post from Alden O'Brien
Curator at the D.A.R. Museum

During the spring Alden and I emailed back and forth about the similarities between the eagle quilt currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum and the quilts by Anna Catherine Garnhart in the D.A.R. Museum's collection. Alden has done a good deal of research on the topic. Here's her first guest post on the connections among this impressive set of 19th-century quilts. Scroll down to the bottom to see links to more posts on these quilts. She begins with a little seen Garnhart that has been on loan to the DAR, almost identical to the quilt attributed to Elizabeth Welsh on the cover of the Brooklyn Museum catalog.

DAR’s loan quilt by Garnhart 

What are we to make of the similarities among a handful of eagle quilts with very different family
provenances, seemingly unrelated—yet with many identical fabrics? As Barbara has discussed
in earlier posts, the eagle quilt at the Brooklyn Museum is the twin of a quilt on loan to the DAR
Museum, including almost entirely the same fabrics.

Here are photos of the “twins.” Many thanks to the current owner of the Garnhart quilt for allowing us to show it for the first time since our 1991 exhibit on Garnhart’s quilts!

Brooklyn Museum’s quilt by Elizabeth Welsh

The DAR’s loan quilt was made by a Frederick, Maryland resident, born Anna Catharine Hummel in 1773,
who married David Markey by whom she had three children (two sons, and a daughter who appears to
have died quite young). In 1820 Mr. Markey died and she married Henry Garnhart, who died in 1828.
Catherine (she apparently was never known as Anna) died in 1860. The Garnharts lived apart for most of
their marriage. Catherine was always in Frederick, and Henry seems to have spent most of his time on
his property, which included a tavern business, some twenty miles away outside of Charles Town,
Virginia (now West Virginia).
Anna Catharine Hummel Markey Garnhart, 
Photo about 1850-60.

I think it’s rather a pity we call her Garnhart, for although she made most or perhaps all the quilts while
named Garnhart, there is some evidence that her second marriage was unhappy. Moreover, her quilts
(eight full-size and three crib quilts known to date) were made for her Markey grandchildren, and many
are still owned by descendants of those Markeys. However, it’s conventional to call a woman by her last
married name, and her recent fame as a quilt artist has been gained under the name Garnhart, so we’ll
have to stick with Garnhart.

Barbara has done a Photoshop manipulation,
layering one quilt over the other.

The placement is almost identical, and the same fabrics are used for about 90% of each quilt, including
the eagle’s shield, the vines, the roses inside the curves of the vines, the center flower pots (with
identical white trellis applied on the print), the birds, and most of the floral arrangements—and of course the border. The vase and basket clusters are made by combining elements from several different
chintzes in almost identical arrangements.

Center basket, 
1 Garnhart left, 2 Welsh R

The center flower baskets above are an example of how nearly identical the quilts are, using the same piecing
of several fabrics:

(1 Garnhart L, 2 Welsh R)

The smaller flower pots in the center (above) differ slightly:
Just below the eagle on each side, Garnhart used the green vine fabric to add some leaves to the roses in the small pots (left); the pots themselves are made of the same red fabric seen in the larger flower basket. The Welsh quilt skips the leaves and makes the flower pots out of the green from the vine (right).

(1 Garnhart L, 2 Welsh R)

Above, smaller flower pots next to the eagle: 
The smaller arrangements in the outer rows vary, but the fabrics used, especially the birds, are mostly
the same. Welsh’s quilt has this bird and basket motif in all four corners, where Garnhart puts it only in
the bottom corners:

(1 Garnhart quilt)

The most noticeable difference (making it easy to tell them apart at first glance) is in the bottom center. The Garnhart quilt adds a plum tree between the lower two vines, and pheasants from the same fabric are placed
below it instead of using another flower arrangement at bottom center.

Sollers quilt, DAR Museum 2012.34

The DAR Museum has another quilt, also from Maryland, with the same plum tree and pheasants on it,
made in 1831 by Ruth Sollers in memory of her niece Arianna Sollers.  (See A Maryland Album by Allen & Gibson Tuckhorn for more of its family history.)

One version of a
Pheasants & Plum Tree chintz
Brackman Collection

This print is one we’ve seen on many mid-Atlantic and southern quilts of this period—many yards seem to have been imported and clearly received well by American quilters. The print is one of several game-birds-and-tree-style prints imported into America in the early 1800s. Of course, seeing the same chintzes on several quilts is not uncommon, and doesn't mean they were made by the same woman.

DAR Museum 83.33

DAR Museum 87.10

Two South Carolina quilts of about 1810 shown above share a flower basket print, whose border and corners have been cut and arranged around the center in one example (left), and left intact in the other. North Carolina Quilts (Ruth Haislip Roberson, ed.) includes several more quilts with the same print.

Back to Garnhart:
Research done by Dorothy Cozart who wrote about Garnhart’s quilts when only three were then known in Uncoverings in 1986, and later work by then-DAR curators Gloria Seaman Allen and Nancy Gibson Tuckhor indicates that Garnhart made quilts for each of her eleven grandchildren and a few extra crib quilts for good measure. Largely due to Nancy’s work tracing Garnhart’s descendants eight of the eleven grandchildren can be matched with a surviving full-size quilt, to date. These include four eagle quilts, three similar designs using all flower baskets and no eagles, and one mariner’s compass quilt. They are mostly still in family hands, and were reunited in 1991 for an exhibit at the DAR Museum. One of the all-flower-basket style quilts was donated to the DAR after the exhibit. The other two all-flower quilts are quite similar with round vines instead of this rectangular one below, and different combinations of sawtooth and chintz borders.

Quilt made for John Henshaw Markey b. 1835. DAR 91.463

I should say here that while the grandchildren were born between 1821 and 1847, the quilts may not
have been made in exact correspondence with their birthdates. Anyone who enjoyed quilting as
Garnhart must have, would have been making quilts without necessarily having a specific child in
mind each time. She may well have made her quilts over a period of time and saved them until each
child was deemed ready to receive one. The fabrics of the quilts date from about 1815 (the date
former Winterthur curator Florence Montgomery gave to the pheasant and plum tree fabric) into the 1840s, e.g. the fondue paisley border on John Henshaw Markey’s quilt (above), which is also seen in other Garnhart pieces.

Garnhart also made three other eagle quilts. One is the first Garnhart donated to the DAR Museum,
which sparked Gloria Allen’s and Nancy Gibson’s interest in Garnhart.

DAR 74.282, made for Ann Catherine Markey, b. 1824.

The DAR’s eagle quilt above, although much like the Brooklyn/DAR “twins” at top, is composed somewhat differently. It's a type very similar to most of the rest of her work. In this quilt (#7) and in her three all-flower quilts (compare #6 pictured above), Garnhart composes baskets and vases overflowing with flowers cut from numerous chintzes, then surrounds the center motifs with her signature reverse appliqué vines. The center vines may be round or rectangular, and are single-lobed leaves, oak-like leaves, alternating combinations of the two, or grapevines. The outer row of flower arrangements may be bordered by another one of these vines, or by sawtooth edges. Some have chintz borders, others have only a larger sawtooth edge like the eagle quilt above. Among these quilts, many of the same printed cottons have been used for sawtooth edges and vines, further linking these quilts-- if family provenance were not enough.

Another quite similar eagle quilt (#9) with reverse applique leaves is in private hands, and is pictured on page 43 of Stella Rubin’s Treasure or Not? How to Compare and Value American Quilts.” On the same page is one of Garnhart’s crib quilts, from the same owner. See quilt 9 at the bottom of the post. 

Quilt by Anna Catherine Garnhart
Photo courtesy of the Plains Indians and Pioneer Museum
Barbara has Photoshopped this picture a bit to make it clearer.

Last (only in order of discussion, not necessarily chronologically and certainly not in quality) is the Garnhart quilt above (#8), owned by the Plains Indian and Pioneer Museum in Woodward, Oklahoma. This “outlier” is the fourth eagle quilt, which was made for Garnhart’s eldest grandchild, John David Markey, b. 1821 or 1822. John David moved West, taking the quilt with him, and descendants eventually donated it to the Plains Indians and Pioneer Museum in Woodward, Oklahoma.

It is also pictured on their website as it looks on a bed, with even more vivid colors apparent:

This quilt, while undeniably stunning, has a very different style from Garnhart’s other works. The overall
effect is bolder, simpler, and somewhat more “folky.” Its vine’s leaves are similar to the “twin’s,” but
arranged in a simple circle around the shield-less eagle. It uses chintz cutout flowers only as single
elements above individually cut-out flower stems, and its overall layout and piecing are much simpler
than in her other designs. Was this an earlier effort, and she went on to make the more complex designs
with many multicolored expensive floral chintzes? Or did she make this after the others, when she was
tired of turning out those designs?

Regardless of the chronology and despite the design differences, taken together, the Garnharts and the
Welsh quilt form a sizable collection of remarkably similar quilts.

---Alden O'Brien---

Thanks so much for allowing me to post this research, Alden.
Alden is going to do another post soon featuring another quilter’s very similar designs, and exploring possible explanations for similarities among these quilts, and connections among the quilters.

I realized I had a copy of Rubin's book and I'd forgotten about page 43, so I took a snapshot:

Anna Catherine Garnhart quilt
in private collection
from Stella Rubin's book
Treasure or Not
Notice the similar sunflowers at the top center in this quilt and in the eagle quilt now in Oklahoma (#8)


  1. This post makes me faint. I love love love the eagles and the borderie perse! I think we should design a quilt similar to these with modern reproductions and market them. I have a panel with a similar eagle in my stash. Was going to put it medallion style in my Grandmother's choice quilt but the colors are off. It's time to revive these amazing designs. DOn't you think?

  2. I certainly would like to see some Garnhart-inspired reproductions.

  3. I think I remember a quilt like this when I was younger. It is funny how I thought things were old fashioned and never wanted them and now I wish I could have them;)


  4. Re: Garnhart repros, our Eagle quilt was the basis of Windham Fabrics' line of quilt fabrics just about a year ago. the center medallion eagle and vine border were one yardage choice, and some of the other prints were also available. Sadly they chose not to do the "document" (original) colors but made them all tea-dyed-looking and muted. But they might still be "out there" in some stores, both online or real. Also, the Brooklyn quilt was documented in the 1930s by the Index of American Design, and then was used by a commercial quilt pattern company in the 1950s--but as a two-color cross-stitch design! Laura Fisher has one for sale on her website (go to Quilt, Specialty quilts, Two color quilts at laurafisherquilts.com; another is on the Quilt Index.)--Alden O'Brien

    1. I am hording a yard of the eagle fabric! I wish they wouldn't have only run tea dyed.

  5. On Friday I was at the Baylor University Archives reading a transcript of the Lucy Merry Pier diary, 1854 and I got through 1861. She lived in Austin County, Texas. She was evidently a devoted quilter, and mentions ten different quilt patterns (including New York Beauty), and mentions writing names on some. If you are interested, please email me at vbetts@uttyler.edu and I can give you more details. Vicki Betts.