Art collector Bert Hemphill gave this remarkable quilt to the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art in 1987. It's even more remarkable when you look at it closely, which you can do in the online photo here:
It's attributed to Bourbon County, Kentucky, northeast of Lexington.
Jan 16, 1893"
Mt. Carmel Christian Church was built in 1859
The quilt is credited to Bourbon County but several of the names seem to come from Cynthiana over the line in Harrison County. The Mt. Carmel Church still stands on the Cynthiana Road with a Paris, Bourbon County address.
Like many other fundraising quilts at the time, there are many names embroidered. Most of the 110 names look to be by the same hand.
"Mrs. James Lail"
The Battle Grove Cemetery in Cynthiana, Harrison County, has 67 Lails in the records, including three James Lails.
This portrait of "Mary Sparks" is probably Mary Isabella Sparks Boyers (1883-1959) ten years old at the time. Like most of her family Mary is buried in the Battle Grove Cemetery.
Several of the blocks include "dressed pictures," three-dimensional embroidery with paper faces. I thought at first that the young women of the town did their own portraits. But, following up on their names indicates some were very young girls. The pictorial faces are probably not portraits but cut from fashion or advertising prints.
Ruth Worthington --- a little over two years old in winter 1893
She died at three in 1894 and is buried in the same cemetery.
The children are seated in "Mrs. Moore's Class" --- a Sunday school class? The standing boy is James Harding Sparks, perhaps, who was about five at the time. James, buried in Cynthiana, died on a troop ship headed for Europe in World War I.
There is a strong link between the quilt and the community buried in the Cynthiana cemetery, with most of the names I've followed from Harrison County.
Cynthiana cemetery monument to Jessie Frazer
who died the year before the quilt was made.