Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hannah Nicholson Grave Quilts

I've been looking for quilts with a bouquet of chintz focusing on a white dahlia and found two albums that are quite a bit alike.

They share the print and many other characteristics.

I love to find twin quilts because they often offer clues to a regional style, an influential teacher or a prolific quiltmaker. There is little mystery to solve, however, with Hannah's albums. Both are attributed to friends of Hannah Nicholson Grave.

The quilt with the lighter striped sashing is in the collection of
the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 
96" x 100". Gift of Mr & Mrs. Robert W. Dobbins, 1991.

The quilt with the darker sashing is in the collection of the 
Smithsonian. #1986.0657.01, 99" x 98", 1843.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Grave in 1986

The same hand seems to have set the blocks with stripes and red stars.

From the Smithsonian caption:
"Hannah C. Nicholson was born in Indiana on November 19, 1824, to John and Esther Nicholson. On August 14, 1845 Hannah married Howell Grave (1818-1894) in Wayne County, Indiana. 
"Members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, presented Hannah C. Nicholson with this album quilt made in 1843. She was 19 years old at the time and would shortly marry Howell Grave....The forty-one appliqu├ęd blocks and one inked block on this quilt are inscribed with names, dates, and places. Most of the places inked on the blocks are from the Philadelphia area, with a few from New Jersey (Woodbury, Bordentown, Pleasant Hill, and Salem). Although Hannah was born and lived in Indiana, her father was from New Jersey. 

Quaker Meeting House in New Garden, later Newport and
later Fountain City, Indiana 
"Howell and Hannah farmed in Wayne County and raised four children, three girls (Esther, Emma, and Josephine) and a son (Vernon).
The Graves's land northeast of town
In the early 1860s they moved to Richmond, Indiana, where for twenty years Howell was one of the principal iron merchants in the city. By the mid-1880s he was in the insurance and real estate businesses. Two of their daughters are listed as teachers on the 1870 census, while Vernon continued to farm. After Hannah was widowed in 1894, she lived with her daughter and son-in-law in Wayne, Indiana. She died there on February 13, 1912, and is buried in the Earlham Cemetery Richmond, Indiana."
The Coffin house is a museum dedicated to the antislavery Quakers.

Howell Grave’s parents and grandparents arrived in Indiana in 1816 and he was born there in 1818, the year of statehood. The Nicholsons and the Graves were probably part of the strong anti-slavery community in the New Garden area where Levi and Catherine White Coffin were leaders. Several years ago I designed a star block for New Garden Quakers. See a post here:

The blocks in the twin album quilts were made for Hannah before her marriage. She may have set them together. I also found another quilt attributed to her hands.

Oak Leaf Quilt by Hannah Nicholson Grave, 
estimated date 1843. Collection of Conner Prairie Museum #91.5, gift of
her great-granddaughter, 1991.

Do click on the details on the side column.

How many others of Hannah's quilts descended in her family?

See a post on the chintz with the white dahlia here:

Did someone buy a block readymade for the album?


  1. Are there signatures on the album quilt in the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Why do they say that quilt was "made in Philadelphia? I'm having a clueless day, I'm afraid -- why do you ask "Did someone buy a block readymade for the album?"
    In reading about album quilts of this period, a lot of album blocks were not made by the donor that signed the block, the donor could have asked a seamstress to make one for the occasion or turned to a friend or family member. What stands out to you about one of these blocks that you ask this question and which block is it? The two blocks using the white dahlia surrounded by two similar-sized red flowers and some foliage look to me like the appliqued fabric was cut from the same fabric but one blockmaker eliminated some of the surrounding detail to simplify the job. Or the other blockmaker added more flowers and foliage to the same central image that is in the the other block. Or do you see these blocks as composite arrangements of flowers and foliage from different chintz fabrics that happen to be very similar?

  2. I think it's amusing that the Graves and the Coffins were members of the same community...Joanne