Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Birds, Pomegranates and a Spider for Lunch #1

Last year Peggy Norris posted this photo of a quilt in the collection
of the Mahwah New Jersey Museum

They have only a few quilts. This one, donated in 2016, is a prize but they knew little about it other than it may have a North Carolina connection. Peggy did a good deal of work on it and believes it to have descended from Sally Park Turner Alexander. 

Sally Park Turner Alexander (1811-1889)
about 1860,
buried in Scotland Neck, North Carolina.

The Turners and Alexanders were well-to-do politicians from North Carolina and Virginia (Sally's father James Turner's wealth included 170 slaves in 1820.) "Since the Turners were very wealthy they would have access to luxury goods, whether chintz fabric or a finished [purchased] quilt."

Members of the American Quilt Study Group posted pictures of quilts with similar fabric and style and pretty quickly we realized this quilt is one of a very specific style category.

The center tree of life applique as a style dates
from about 1810 to 1840.

The technique is cut-out-chintz or Broderie Perse. Look at
the magnificent stitches. The stitches are probably covering raw-edge applique.

Both fabrics here look to be a twill weave.

This incredibly appliqued thing here is a spider.

Several AQSG members recognized the spider;
here it is hanging to the right of the bird in a quilt in the 
collection of the DAR Museum

Mahwah Museum

Same bird too.

DAR Museum Collection
They have little information on this quilt.

It took a while but we figured out that most of the design elements in the Mahwah quilt and the DAR quilt are from a single piece of chintz (or maybe two versions of a chintz.)

Carolyn Miller has a medallion with a piece of the chintz as the center

See the spider hanging from a tree branch

Collection of Carolyn Miller

Biologist Terry Terrell identified the birds as Asian Peacock Pheasants
genus Polyplectron

The chintz and the quilts were likely inspired by this painting of a Chinese Peacock Pheasant by English ornithologist George Edwards published in his Natural History of Uncommon Birds
about 1750. The paper print was copied several times and must have been a widely available image to well-read women in the early 19th century.

J. Hinton print after Edwards

The birds on the chintz resemble the Gray Peacock Pheasant with no feather crest.

Right now we have collected pictures of 18 quilts with the bird chintz and a related floral.
More tomorrow.


  1. Oh I love this kind of sleuthing! As I was reading I though, hmm, maybe there was a spider in the original fabric and voila! How exciting. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Fascinating! And to have the bird identified specifically, not just an artist's fancy.

  3. Confirming the notion that they were in the same fabric is a length of yardage the DAR was able to purchase from Jane Lury, unfortunately the year AFTER we could have shown it in the Eye on Elegance exhibit (eyeonelegance.dar.org yes catalogs still available) with those two quilts. You can see it in our online collections, collections.dar.org, enter "2015.20" (in quotes) in Object Number in the Advanced Search. Then compare "9.2" which is yardage without the birds. That one was in Eye altho I'm not sure it was in the online exhibit.--Alden O'Brien, DAR Museum

  4. How amazing that they would even include a spider in the print! What beautiful stitching indeed.

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