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:


  1. Conclusion accepted. I've really enjoyed these posts!

  2. Thank you, Barbara. While slightly disappointed that Anna Garnhardt didn't make the quilts (it's such a good story) it certainly makes sense.

  3. Amazing amount of research went into these posts. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  4. Fascinating. I've learned so much. Thanks.

  5. Loved this series, and I too have learned so much. Thank you!

  6. Fascinating detective work! Congratulations on solving the cold cases. Those who are snooty about quilts from kits might see things differently now? Thank you for sharing.