Sunday, December 8, 2019

DAR Seminar Papers 1: Mind Reading

Quilt offered by Thomaston auctions in 2014

Terry Terrell and Deborah Kraak gave a paper at the November seminar at the DAR Museum about Floral Literacy as a key to understanding the look of early-19th-century American quilts: Mind-Reading: Improving our Understanding of the Floral Literacy of Quiltmakers in the First Half of the 19th Century

It's a Flower
They made some interesting points that we (mostly floral history illiterates) should consider in examining chintz quilts. As a floral illiterate I will try to report what I learned.

For example: Changes in flowers through breeding and hybridization in the look of a plant over time can be used to date a fabric such as a viola/pansy. A full-blown pansy, round in shape, with variegated color in the center looking like eye spots would not be pictured on a chintz before pansies were hybridized to look like that.  

See their Flowers On Chintz web page here:

Plant breeding was done by professional florists, garden suppliers and amateur gardeners. The speakers emphasized English gardening interests and the trend for flower clubs---a manly hobby---inspiring changes in floral appearance and popularity of different species, which they saw reflected in American chintz quilts but, like much American fashion, with a time lag.

Here's one of my favorite paintings:
 Rubens Peale with a Geranium by his brother Rembrandt Peale, 1801
Now I know why the Philadelphian is showing off a geranium.

Deborah discussed desirable traits in hybridization, including round, compact blooms with a central pom-pom and the much-desired color variegation in petals. 

Variegation was favored as in the tulip here in a print from
the 1850s in the collection of the Winterthur Museum

They gave us a vocabulary of popular flowers such as auricula, anemone and ranunculus. We floral illiterates might see them as hydrangea, daisies and roses but we’d be wrong.

English block-printed panel

When I first began looking at chintz panels I saw
roses in the pinkish, layered flowers and hydrangea in the brown composite blooms.
More accurately: Ranunculus and Auricula (primroses)

Ranunculi, tulips and another kind of primrose in the center of a basket panel.

Primroses of various types were quite the fashion

1749 print of a Ranunculus by Benjamin Wilks

As were Ranunculi

Collection of the Winterthur Museum
This panel includes many of the flowers popular at the time.

They showed several botanical prints, the inspiration for chintz designers, and noted that although the floral prints on paper may have been published about 1805 the flowers do not show up in chintzes in dated quilts until the 1830s. 

Gladioli in a quilt dated 1845

Blooms like calla and gladioli bred about 1805 were not seen in quilts till the middle 1830s. This 25-year time lag is hard to explain, but it's something we see in the appearance of many English chintzes in American quilts.

Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Extremely popular print in American quilts with a calla,
a bunch of primroses and a ranunculus among others.

When were the chintzes with auriculae and ranuculi printed? This is still a question. On our Chintz Panel blog we too have noted this 20-30 year lag between fashions in chintz and fashions in American quilts. And what happened about 1830? Maybe we just started getting imports of the fabric only a few decades behind London.

Dr. Terry Terrell with a Geranium 2019

Deborah's just lucky I didn't have a photo of her.

Tomorrow: More papers


  1. Thank you Barb for educating me on this topic, your added humor is always welcome!!!

  2. I loved the picture - it made me laugh. I never expected to have my portrait painted and by Rembrandt Peale no less!

  3. Maybe someone will send you Deborah's picture - lol!