Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Henry Clay Quilt #2 by Lucretia Hart Clay

Senator Henry Clay (1777 - 1852) in a
 quilt attributed to Lucretia Hart Clay, his wife.

Kentucky Museum and Libraries, Special Collections. (#1984-34-1)
The portrait of the politician is in the center of the quilt, shown here on a bed at Ashland, the Clay home.

The museum estimates the quilt was made between 1842 and 1852.
It's 81" x 102", stuffed and quilted, decorated with cut-out chintz and
 other prints, and embroidered. 

From the museum's online catalog:
"Circa 1850 Henry Clay Presentation Quilt consisting of thirty-one celadon, salmon, and buff chintz panels that have been crewel embroidered in pastoral scenes. The focal point is the central panel, a needlework portrait of Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852) that was likely based on an 1842 portrait of the Senator by artist John Neagle. In addition to crewel embroidery, the quilt includes limited applique work in several embroidered blocks and stuffed work in the setting blocks.
"Oral tradition holds that the Clay’s wife made it as a gift for Maria Crittenden (abt 1797-1851), the wife of the senator’s political ally, Senator John Jordan Crittenden (1787-1863)."
The Kentucky Museum bought this quilt in 1984 from the Guernsey Auction House in New York City after a statewide campaign to raise money to bring it back to Kentucky. At the time the quilt was described in a Bowling Green Daily News article:
"Henry Clay and John J. Crittenden were friends, close political allies and Kentucky senators....In honor that relationship, Mrs Henry Clay and some friends put together a friendship quilt, complete with and applique portrait of clay in the center, and presented it to the Crittendens in the 1840s or 1850s."
In 1847 Crittenden and Clay had a political falling out over Crittenden's support for Presidential rival Zachary Taylor. Melba Porter Hay, editor of Clay's papers notes, "The friendship was not completely restored until shortly before Clay's death." (June, 1852)

Lucretia Hart Clay (1781 - 1864) was born in Hagerstown. Maryland, and moved to the far western territory of Kentucky when she was a young child. In 1799 she married lawyer Henry Clay in Lexington.

Maria Knox Innes Todd Crittenden (1796-1851) was born in Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1826 the 30-year-old widow took a second husband, lawyer John Jordan Crittenden (1787-1863). The Crittendens and the Clays were friends throughout their lives. Crittenden was a Kentucky native who served in many Kentucky offices. He was Governor from mid 1848- to mid-1850 and Maria was the First Lady of the state. After her death John Crittenden married his third wife Elizabeth Moss (1804-1873).

The quilt is described as chintz. I assume this means a cotton with some kind of a sheen to the surface. The needlework shows sophistication in all the techniques. The central portrait of Clay is probably done in Broderie Perse or cut-out chintz technique with the picture cut from a textile and appliqued to the pink/salmon background.

Several silk kerchiefs or bandanas were printed with similar portraits drawn from a painting of Clay by John Neagle for the 1844 election. 

Margaret Bayard Smith ( 1778 –1844) at about 
50 years old wearing a fashionable Turkish turban.

Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of a newspaper editor, met Lucretia Clay in 1810 when they were living at the same boarding house. The Clays, their children and a nurse, probably a slave, accompanied freshman representative Henry Clay to Washington.
"We have a large company in this house... Mr. and Mrs. Clay, (Henry Clay the orator,) and a number of gentlemen .... I have formed habits of sociability with Mr. and Mrs. Clay only—Mrs. Clay is a woman of strong natural sense, very kind and friendly. She often brings [needle] work of an evening into our room and in the morning I go to hers—we help each other dress and she always offers us seats in her carriage when we visit together,—or go a shopping, and her woman who has been the nurse of all her children, attends to mine whenever I wish it."
Margaret Smith and Lucretia Clay became good friends. Smith wrote of her often and occasionally mentioned her interest and skill in needlework. In 1811 she began with faint praise:
"She is what you call a good woman, but has no qualities of mind to attract,—none of the heart to endear. She is a most devoted mother, and to sew for her children her chief, almost exclusive occupation. She has no taste for fashionable company or amusements, and is a thousand times better pleased, sitting in the room with all her children round her, and a pile of work by her side, than in the most brilliant drawing room. She has shown more affection and kindness of disposition since my sickness, than I believed her capable of. She is always showing me and mine some attention, takes me out in her carriage whenever I will go, wishes me to be often with her."
A counted worsted work pattern for canvas

And 23 years later in 1834, long after Lucretia had returned to Lexington and Ashland, the women and their growing girls tried the new mania for worsted work (Berlin work or what we would call needlepoint---wool yarns over canvas.)
"The bell rings,— it is Mrs. Clay, who feeling at home, sat down among without disturbing us.... Catherine Smith came in, to show us a screen she had just finished, the canvas was worked over white velvet and the threads afterwards drawn out, which has a beautiful effect. It was the finest specimen of the worsted work I have seen and our exclamations of admiration were re-iterated.  
"This work is becoming quite a mania here, even I could not resist, but I cannot work after a pattern, or count stitches and have astonished the girls with my fine bunch of flowers, done al fresco. I compose the flowers as I proceed, one after the other, fitting them in as suits. I am as much delighted with this work as with painting. Virginia, Ann and Anna are all working ottomans for Mrs. Clay and I am doing her lamp and stands. At Lowell a present of a great quantity of worsted was made her and we are thus helping her to use them. She does the filling up, the girls only do the flowers, for which they had gone [shopping] to seek for some peculiar colour.... 
"I cannot help anxiously wishing that Mrs. Clay, may once more be a resident amongst us. She is such an affectionate, sincere, kind friend, such a good woman, that her being here, adds very much to our social enjoyment."
Read an article about the quilt purchase.

And read Margaret Bayard Smith's letters The first forty years of Washington society, portrayed by the family letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smithhttp://www.loc.gov/resource/lhbcb.40262

1 comment:

  1. That is quite a glimpse into the thinking of the time. Isn't it funny how simple, content people are often looked on as somehow lacking?
    I'm glad Margaret had a change of mind after knowing Lucretia for a number of years.
    Thanks for sharing.