Tree of Life quilt attributed to
Mary Elizabeth Clayton Miller Taylor
103" x 104", Telfair Museum, Savannah, Georgia
Inscribed in cross-stitch embroidery at the base of the tree
Cyndi Sommers, Telfair's Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts has written about William's quilt, updating some of the older cataloging information:
"[Mary's husband] owned considerable property in Savannah, including a wharf. He was a merchant whose name appears frequently in midcentury Savannah newspapers. The family owned enslaved people, and it can be assumed they were quite affluent. Mary Elizabeth was active in charity work, including the Bethesda Orphan House (for boys), and in 1801 founded the Savannah Female Orphan Asylum.
"Mary and William had two children, Alexander Miller Taylor and Elizabeth Ann Taylor Goodwin. Alexander married Julia Clark and their two sons, William Taylor and Alexander Clark Taylor, were both born in Newark, New Jersey. This quilt was made for the first grandson, William, and is dated two years after his birth."
Center of the quilt, which appears to be a large hollyhock bush,
(Alcea rosea) about 4 feet wide by 4-1/2 feet tall.
The quilt was dedicated to Mary's New Jersey grandson William Taylor (1822-1893), about two years old in 1824. Both William and his brother Alexander graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's medical program, the country's most prestigious at the time. After graduating in 1846 or '47 William practiced in Newark until he retired at 51, moving to the town of Vineland in southern New Jersey to work in Alexander's pharmacy. He apparently never married.
His brother wrote a short biography of William, indicating he'd died of heart failure at about 71 in 1893, after suffering years of "precarious" health.
William's buried with his brother's family in the Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.
His quilt was inherited by Alexander's daughter Mary Dalzell Taylor Spence (1881-1963).
The quilt has an unusual series of borders, also seen in Quilt #4.
Five strips of triangles all cut from the same cloth.
The center looks to be quilted in a diagonal grid, the border quilting
echoes the triangles. Or perhaps the center background is a textured-weave cotton, something often
seen as the base of chintz appliques.
Although dated 21 years apart the two quilts have much in common stylistically: the large central appliqued tree with pieced borders, framed with a final border of chintz.
Is there a seam down the middle of the border in #1? Doesn't really look like it, but triangles certainly dominate. Each quilt makes good use of English furnishing prints, the hawk in #1; and an equally popular hollyhock chintz in #2.
82" x 85"
The National Museum of American History has another chintz applique with the same hollyhock fabric, but information about maker or where it was made is not listed. It was a gift of Mrs. Robert B Stephens who perhaps was a collector (many Smithsonian quilts & samplers are from her collection.)
It's hard to get an idea of the scale of this print from photos.
We've yet to find a piece of this particular hollyhock fabric but looking at it in quilts indicates at least three colorways were done. Two links to hollyhock chintzes:
Terry Terrell's Flowers on Chintz