Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Henry Clay Quilt at the 1853 Worlds Fair

In 1853 quilts won prizes at New York's Crystal Palace Exposition. 

Miss Ellen Anderson of Louisville, Kentucky, won a bronze medal for a
"Patchwork Quilt 'Henry Clay'

 Henry Clay campaign ribbon

Ellen Anderson's quilt received a good deal of publicity. Henry Clay, a famous politician in the first half of the 19th century, had died a year earlier at the age of 75. The Kentuckian had run for president several times but never won. He was the standard-bearer of the disintegrating Whig party and considered a brilliant statesman for his ability to persuade Congress to compromise.

The New York Herald in August, 1853:
"The ladies will thank us for calling their attention to the beautiful specimens of  needlework.... Among the collection that which particularly attracted our notice was called Henry Clay Quilt, an article exquisitely beautiful and bearing upon it evidences of superior skill. This was made in Kentucky, by a niece of the great 'American Commoner.' It is about eight feet square, upon padded satin with a very heavy white silk fringe, fully twelve inches in depth.... Around the edge of the quilt, about six inches in width is a raised oak wreath, consisting of the leaves and the acorn. The body of the quilt is laid out into stars, each being different in color, and all of them presenting variegations which would be difficult to surpass. The centre of each star is decorated, some by a likeness of the illustrious Kentuckian, and others by an American eagle....the inscription 'His country's friend in the hour of danger.' In the center of the quilt is a large monument, surmounted by an urn and immediate under the urn is written ----Session 1850--and below this is [a] Latin motto..."

A 1942 photo of the quilt by Ellen Anderson, shown by descendant Mrs. George Kremer of Louisville. One can perhaps see the monument in the center, the stars as a field of patchwork surrounding it and the oakleaf border. The fringe seems to be gone.

At that point the family was well aware of the quilt's history.
" 'Star of the West,' the name of the star-shaped patchwork in which the quilt is pieced, was a synonym phrase for Henry Clay, who was called 'the brightest star of the West' in the early 1800's. Diamond-shaped pieces of brocaded satin form a six-pointed star surrounding a hexagon made of part of the Clay campaign badge of 1848. Thus Clay's portrait appears in the center of many of the stars. 'Family tradition says that Clay himself took an interest in the quilt,' says Mrs. Kremer. 'It was finished shortly after his death and won a bronze medal which was the first prize in the first American World's Fair in New York in 1853, the year Henry Clay died.' 
Not only hero worship of a great Kentuckian but family pride and affection caused Mrs. Anderson to undertake such a unique and intricate coverlet. Mrs. Anderson was the great-niece of Lucretia Hart, Henry Clay's wife. Thomas Hart, brother of Lucretia, was the quilt-maker's grandfather and the present owner's great-great-grandfather."

It's interesting that Mrs Kremer called the hexagon pattern the Star of the West.

Forty years later the quilt was photographed again when the Kentucky Quilt Project was documenting quilts. 

A family member brought it in to be photographed--- but by then it was just a fragment of a quilt.
Four photos can be seen at the Quilt Index:

The story of the triumph at the Crystal Palace and
the maker's name was lost but this is very likely the same quilt.
Stars feature eagles and portraits of Clay with an oak and acorn border.

See a post about another quilt at that Crystal Palace exposition here:

It being the political season I thought I'd look at the early-19th-century politician Henry Clay, for whom numerous quilts were made. Don't think politics were any more fun back then. But the quilts will be.

1 comment:

  1. When I lecture on quilt history I always explain that, before women had the legal right to vote, quilts gave them one outlet through which to express their views. Even the historical names of blocks and patterns remind us that women have always held strong opinions and influence sped their world.

    Witness Tippecanoe [William Henry Harrison], Whig Rose, Clays Choice. Patterns named for battles like Burgoyne Surrounded could indicate political allegiance as well.