Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Noah's Ark Quilt

In 1906 Jean Thompson, writing in the women's magazine The Delineator, took an easy journalistic path and hung her story about quilts on the cliche of a "lost art" with her memories of a quilting grandmother. At the end of the article featuring photos of quilt patterns, she pictured "The Noah's Art Quilt" with a photo of a block from what might have been a family quilt.

Snakes, frogs and 8-legged insects?

"The 'Noah's Ark' quilt is an extremely old one, and different animals, known and imaginary, were lavishly scattered over the entire background of the spread; truly it was enough to give one a nightmare, and to a childish imagination a thing of terror."

She sounds like she might have been glad quilting was a lost art.

Collection of Geoffrey Carr: About 1900
In the lower right.
" For Daniel
 Love Grandma"

Was a "Noah's Ark" quilt a common style? We certainly have enough surviving quilts with "different animals, known and imaginary." Some include the ark and Noah plus wife

Quilt dated 1853, Attributed to Lutheria Converse. Woodville, New York, detail
"A representation of the ark, Noah and family with a collection of the beasts, birds and insects."
I blogged about this one recently.

American Museum of Folk Art, attributed to Canada
Detail of another Noah's Ark with a crazy quilt border.

Center of a quilt once in America Hurrah's inventory

Currier & Ives print
The image of the ark with pairs of beasts and birds was
common iconography in 19th century America...

Rafia Noah's Ark
inspiration for generations of artists.

But are there Noah's Ark quilts we don't recognize as such because there is no boat?

Detail of Lucinda Ward Honstain's sampler
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum

Could Noah's Ark quilt be a generic name for a quilt full of beasts, birds and insects as in The Delineator article in 1906?

Quilt from the Blauvelt family, New York

Rosina Jobes, New York, 1849 detail

Pook & Pook Auction

Detail of a British quilt in the Victoria & Albert Museum called the Greek Slave Quilt.

A flurry of American newspaper articles about the Noah's-ark quilt copied an 1886 English feature about:
 "One of the fashionable things in fancy work: One began with "serge [wool], cloth [wool], satin sheeting or plain cream sheeting... designed and commenced by the lady who starts it. If she is a good worker, she embroiders or appliques the Noah's ark, which is near the centre of the quilt, but placed high up. The animals are all in couples, and form a long procession...marching toward the ark. Sometimes the procession is curved..."
 Broderie Perse top from the McCarl's collection
Perhaps inspired by the newspaper article.

 "The lady asks her friends and neighbors to work the pairs of animals....a lady volunteered to work two fleas, which she actually did, with wonderful care and dexterity."

A copy of a copy from the Philadelphia Record, paraphrasing the English feature and adding
a snide ending:

"Of course, much more ingenuity is required than in the crazy quilt, without which it would be a dismal failure. And then there is a question whether any of these quilts, involving such an outlay of labor, pays."
British quilt from Woodard & Greenstein's inventory

Quilt dated 1874 by Josephine Miller Adkins for John Adkins

Collection of the DAR Museum

Could these have been designed to entertain children---
well, those children who were not frightened of snakes?

Detail of a pair of giraffes, a pair of butterflies and a snake...
mixing Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark stories?

Perhaps a Noah's Ark quilt from Stella Rubin's inventory.

Detail of Harriet Powers's Bible Quilt
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

Detail of Harriet Powers's Quilt
Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston


  1. I have always loved biblical designs in quilts and love Noah's ark, have a few patterns on my to do list.
    I was lucky enough to grab a copy of the Boston museums book with Harriet powers patterns.
    Happy Holidays!


  2. Whimsical and strange... for sure! Thank you for another informative post!

  3. This is--typically!--an interesting and wonderful post. I especially like the giraffes as stand-ins for Adam and Eve. Quilted euphemisms!