Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Honstain Quilt in Context: #1: New York Style

A couple of months ago I gave a talk at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum about Lucinda Honstain's quilt. They have in their collection this sampler quilt dated 1867 that has the reputation as the most expensive antique quilt ever sold ($264,000 in 1991).

The quilt is hanging in New York now at the American Folk Art Museum's Lincoln Center gallery in a show Made in New York City: The Business of Folk Art, curated by Elizabeth V. Warren. The show is up until July 28, 2019. Elizabeth has written a catalog, available in the Museum Shop.

Attributed to Lucinda Ward Honstain, a "tailoress" in New York City who lived in Brooklyn, the quilt is considered a unique piece of folk art, valuable for many reasons, one being the images of African-Americans and references to slavery and the Civil War.

In the talk I discussed Lucinda's personal life (two divorces in the family, a few neighborhood riots in Brooklyn concerning property division and the husband with some kind of personality disorder.)

The time is November, 1867.
Lucinda is in her late 40s.

Mother Lucinda, Daughter Emma and Grandson Hamilton, 2 years old, were living together in Brooklyn, possibly in this house. Son-in-law Hamilton Bingham Sr. may have been living there or on
his way to his next marriage, which took place in 1869.

I've discussed all the gossip in detail at posts last winter (scroll down to see a list) but in the talk I wanted to put the quilt itself in it's context--- in time and place. So here are some of my slides with details.

Lucinda Ward was born in the town of SingSing in Westchester County, New York in 1820. They changed the name to Ossining due to unpleasant associations with their prison by the same name. She spent her adult life in Brooklyn but probably continued to visit family in Westchester County.

Westchester County and New York State in general seems to have been
a hot bed of sampler quilt making during the 1850-1880 period.

There are Baltimore-style samplers and Carolina-style samplers but nobody
has defined New York Style samplers. Lucinda's quilt fits quite well into that category.

Collection of the Brooklyn Museum

One style characteristic is that the blocks are set on the straight and they are often sashed
with strips of plain Turkey red (no cornerstones.)

Quilt dated 1857, attributed to Ossining,

Lucinda's quilt

Another striking design choice is the pictorial imagery,
particularly animals.

Especially horses.
If there's a horse in it, it's a New York quilt.

Lucinda's quilt has a couple of horses. This block with a woman
in a red dress riding side saddle was recalled as a picture of daughter Emma
Bingham, a family story that Melissa Jurgena heard when she interviewed
Lucinda's great-great granddaughter in 2001 for an article in the Folk Art Museum's journal.

The image is probably drawn from a Currier print, The Pride of America....

which seems to have inspired other New York quilters.

Some New Yorkers, including Lucinda, liked to give their animals
and humans green grass to stand on---A horizon line.

If there's a cow in it it's a New York Quilt.

Another minor characteristic (but quite consistent) is the use of small motifs in the corners of their blocks.

When the blocks are set all over (without the red sashing) those corner images make an effective secondary pattern. Quilt on the right is another Honstain quilt at IQSCM

You see it over and over in New York quilts.
Quilters in other regions also used this trick, but it seems New Yorkers were loathe to leave the corners empty.

Many of Lucinda's blocks have naturalistic leaves in the corners,
which would have made interesting secondary designs
had she set the blocks side by side.

But that red sashing must have been compelling.

Tulip in two Honstain family quilts at IQSCM

One more style signature is this tulip/lily design.

Again a feature in New York albums and samplers.

It's fascinating how distinctive the New York sampler/albums are
and how Lucinda's fits in.

Tomorrow: one more New York quilt from 1867.

I've been discussing the Honstain family for a while.


  1. Barbara: The Emily Munroe quilt made in Massachusetts has 6 blocks with horses on them! So not all horse blocks came from New York!

  2. Well, I know, Laura, I overgeneralized. I should say New York, New Jersey and New England.

  3. The block that intrigued me the most when I saw the show was the one lower left--8-pointed thingie with concentric circle center and floral vines through cutouts. Does that motif have a name and/or appear in other quilts? Also the one lower left with flags.

  4. I just saw this quilt in NYC about a month and a half ago. Amazing!

  5. I have always loved this quilt and done some of the blocks in other pieces and in painting.
    Fun to learn more about the maker and the history.


  6. thank you so much, Barbara, for this well researched information - your willingness to take the time to share it all through your blog is amazing. I had to smile at the horses comment....and a reply above because I am always referring to your worksheet at the back of Clues in the Calico...when i talk about old quilts and dating or defining them or hear others make definitive statements...... STRONG Clues vs. WEAK clues among all the other pointers that assist in our 'guess work'.
    thanks again.