Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Piece of Her Mind: Culture and Technology in American Quilts

Sarah Hall Gwyer

Washington DC's DAR Museum has opened a new quilt exhibition. A Piece of Her Mind: Culture and Technology in American Quilts, curated by Alden O'Brien, will be on view through December 31, 2019.


"Today’s culture makes it easy for American women to engage in the world around them, thanks to advances in both women’s rights and technology. But between 1820 and 1920, many women chose to respond to current events and trends creatively, through one of their prescribed activities: needlework. Quilts allowed women to engage in the world while conforming to their era’s gender roles, which restricted middle-class women to the private, domestic sphere. This exhibition will present quilts that reflect their makers’ interest in their world."

Flag quilt from a Peterson's Magazine pattern in 1861 
by Margaret English Wood Dodge, reflecting news of the Civil War

Silk hexagon medallion by Rebecca Vanuxem Lombart Williams.
The tour docent here is showing a photo of the Henry Clay
campaign ribbon, scraps of which are in Rebecca's quilt.

Chintz-applique basket from the group of quilts
attributed to Catherine Garnhart.

Quilts in a cultural context

Medallion quilt with fabric portrait of Andrew Jackson,
probably produced for his 1828 presidential campaign.

On loan from a private collector

Alden O'Brien, Curator of Costume and Textiles, will be giving a lecture Candidates and Celebrities in 19th century Quilts on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 from 12:00-1:00.
Free tickets here:

And the Museum is hosting a one-day meeting Friday November 15, 2019. Plan your Washington trip now for Culture & Technology in American Quilts: A Symposium.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Antique Quilt Exhibits: Spring & Summer 2019

Antique Quilt Exhibits: Spring & Summer 2019
Here's a list through the end of summer 2019.

Arkansas, Little Rock
The Old State House Museum. A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans. Years ago the late Cuesta Benberry curated this exhibit of quilts from the collection, now rehung, up through Fall, 2019.

Colorado, Golden
Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Henry Hite's Hawaiian Quilts dating from 1890 to 1992. And Amish and Mennonite Quilts from the Collection.
April 22 - July 20, 2019

Sarasota, Florida
Ringling Museum of Art, The Fabric of India, traveling exhibit of 140 pieces from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
July 7 - October 13, 2019

Iowa, Winterset
Iowa Quilt Museum.
Stitched Through Time: A History of Quilting
July 9th – September 29th, 2019

Maryland, Baltimore
Maryland Historical Society. In conjunction with the exhibit Hometown Girl: Contemporary Quilts of Mimi Dietrich the museum will show some of its many Baltimore style quilts. Through 2019.

Massachusetts, Lowell
New England Quilt Museum. In Praise of Silk: The World's Favorite Fabric in ​Quilts and Clothing: Through August 4, 2019

And AQSG's 19th Century Basket Quilt Study is up June 25 - August 18, 2019.

Missouri, Kansas City
World War I Museum, Color of Memory: Fabric Art of WWI. Through September 2, 2019

Minnesota, Minneapolis
MIA Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, The Art of High Style: Minnesota Couture 1880-1914, curated by Linda McShanock & Nicole LaBouff.
Through August 4.

Nebraska, Lincoln
International Quilt Study Center & Museum. Old World Quilts. The earliest quilts in the collection.
June 21 - November 30, 2019

New York, Cherry Valley
Rabbit Goody and herThistle Hill Weavers Studio is hosting the annual Textile History Forum 2019, July 27 & 28, 2019

North Carolina, Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of History, QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices Through Quilts
Through March 1, 2020

Catalog available for $20 at the museum's shop:

Pennsylvania, Lancaster
Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler.
Up now till when?

Pennsylvania, Lewisburg
Packwood House Museum, another of their periodic shows of Pennsylvania quilts.
June 1 - October 5, 2019

South Carolina, Charleston
AQS Exhibition. The antique quilt show: From Hands Alone: Selected Quilts from the Collection of Chris Moline. September 15-27, 2019.

Texas, LaGrange
Texas Quilt Museum. Southern Charm, 25 quilts from various collections, curated by Mary W. Kerr. Through June 23, 2019.

Vermont, Bennington
The Bennington Museum displays its famous Jane Stickle quilt annually---this year from August 31-October 14, 2019.

Vermont, Essex
Vermont Quilt Festival. The antique exhibit this year: Quilted Treasures of New York, curated by Sharon Waddell.
June 26 - 29, 2019

Vermont: Shelburne
Shelburne Museum: Ink + Icons: Album Quilts from the Permanent Collection. Nine quilts from the collection.

Virginia, Harrisonburg
Virginia Quilt Museum, Treasures From the Vault: Virginia Stars. Through July 13, 2019
Treasures From the Vault: Mutual West Virginia &Virginia Quilts. July 23– December 14, 2019

Washington D.C.
DAR Museum. A Piece of Her Mind: Culture and Technology in American Quilts
Through December 31, 2019
November 15, 2019. “Culture and Technology in American Quilts: A Symposium.”

Washington, La Conner
Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, Hartsfield Family Collection. Quilts from several generations of an African-American family.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Garnhart Group of Quilts #6: Conclusions

The general look in the Garnhart quilts identifies them as a style group with several fabrics and chintz applique blocks in common. There is a signature overall design format with some being nearly identical. Style and details point to one hand, but was that hand Catherine Garnhart's?

On the left, a Garnhart family quilt; on the right one
quilt attributed to Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia.

Several similar quilts descended in Catherine Garnhart's family with typical family stories that she stitched them. But there are also similar quilts with no relationship to the Garnhart family or Frederick, Maryland. The provenance of the Brooklyn Museum's Elizabeth Welsh quilt has been well studied. William Dunton, who first pictured it, indicated it came by way of a Mrs. Smith from Frederick. No connection to any Hummel/Markey/Garnhart family has been found. Dunton spelled the name here as "Weltch (?)" but the Brooklyn Museum spells it Welsh.

When I began looking at the Garnhart group of quilts a year or so ago I was looking for some evidence that Catherine was a professional seamstress; that she somehow was responsible for these quilts assembled of blocks made by paid stitchers.

Similar bedcovers found in Baltimore,
attributed to Goodwin Wilkins family

 I was looking for another Achsah Wilkins/Goodwin family type of workshop, which is why I spent so much time looking into the lives of Catherine's mother and daughters in law. (She also had several half sisters.) But I found nothing that would indicate she ever sewed a stitch besides these quilts---except for the family stories and a single girlhood sampler in the DAR Museum collection.

Union soldiers in Frederick, 1862
Library of Congress

I couldn't connect Catherine or her family to any kind of sewing enterprises. I hoped to find ads for seamstresses or finished needlework to sell, links to family in the dry goods business or mentions of Markeys in agricultural fairs. The Hummel/Markey women apparently did not look to sewing for any economic assistance. Their land and the various mills seem to have supported them better than sewing (a very underpaid job) would.

 Winebrenner's store, Fredericktown
 New York Public Library collection

I now conclude that Catherine Garnhart bought her family quilts, possibly as gifts for grandchildren, probably purchased in the Baltimore vicinity where a group of seamstresses were selling basted and/or finished blocks and quilts in the kind of workshop I was looking for in Frederick. This group of designers and seamstresses making the Garnhart group may predate the high-style Baltimore album group which dates from about 1845 to 1855 but it seems likely that the two types of quilts overlapped in the late 1840s.

Signature Garnhart eagle on left; typical Baltimore album eagle on right

Garnhart group basket and Baltimore album

The Garnhart quilts use cut-out chintz (Broderie Perse) techniques to achieve a composition of lush florals in a wicker basket. The BAQs use conventional applique cut from solids and smaller-scale prints to get the same look. The second technique would be far more time-consuming. But the simpler technique required an abundance of furniture chintz.

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Footed vases with white and red flowers
Design parallels here are remarkable.

Above wreaths in the center of Baltimore album medallion format quilts.
Below wreath in the center of a Garnhart group crib quilt from Stella Rubin's book.

Of course, it is likely the style also had common antecedents,
wreaths and floral baskets are evident in all manner of mid-19th-century
decorative arts.

Sheet music/New York Public Library

 As Nancy Gibson observed many years ago: 
the imagery is classic.

When chintz became old-fashioned and/or unobtainable, did the fancy goods professionals of Baltimore adapt compositions to the fabrics available? A change in techniques and yard goods but similar style?

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Or did consumers have a choice of styles? One could buy
an old-fashion chintz block from Ms. X or a more up-to-date
conventional applique block from Ms. Y?

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Garnhart group, DAR Museum
A block quilt with a central focus.
Old hat?

Baltimore album, Collection of Colonial Williamsburg
More up-to-date?

BAQ, Collection of the DeYoung Museum

Above, typical BAQ compositions, no strong central emphasis with a 5 x 5 block layout. New fabric, new techniques and new formats.

If we guess that Catherine Garnhart purchased her quilts (or her blocks) in or near Baltimore we have to conclude that Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia did the same. 

Market Street in Baltimore, the dry goods district, 1850

In the 1840s and '50s Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States. We can assume that women with money to spend on fancy goods would travel to the mid-Atlantic port from near (Frederick was 50 miles) and far.

DAR Museum Curator Alden O'Brien has traced three similar quilts to the same family who lived in New England, no connection to the Garnharts. It's not far fetched to guess that a Rhode Island woman would buy quilts from Baltimore.

Collection of the Plains Indian and Pioneer Museum

This quilt, which descended in the family of Catherine Garnhart's grandson John David Markey 1822-1898, has a family story that it was made for his birth in 1822 but style and fabrics do not support such an early date. It may have been a wedding gift for his 1842 marriage. It has much in common with the other family quilts but the overall design and some of the blocks have quite a different look explained by the change from chintz to calico in the available fabrics. It's just more up-to-date.

John and wife Margaret left Maryland for Muscatine, Iowa
in 1852, according to Margaret's obituary. Perhaps a going-away keepsake?

My theory: The Garnhart group of quilts are products of Maryland's commercial quiltmaking workshops. We can see these as a parallel style to the more abundant Baltimore album quilts. Catherine Garnhart, just one customer who purchased similar quilts, was a generous grandmother who could afford to buy some fashionable luxury gifts for her family.

Garnhart left; BAQ right

Shall we call the style  the Garnhart School?
Or the Frederick School?

Links to the other 5 posts: