Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Early Dated Cut-Out Chintz Tree of Life Quilt?

Baltimore Museum of Art
About 109" square
1982 Gift of William L. Reed, Lutherville, Maryland, in Memory of Barbara Garrett Reed

This quilt has been intriguing me for years.

I first saw it in William S. Dunton's 1946 book Old Quilts
where Dr. D writes:
"Tree of Life quilt...by Elizabeth Stouffer in 1809 and was the seventh of a series. This was nine years before her marriage to Robert Garrett...[A later] Robert Garrett the present owner."

Elizabeth Stouffer Garrett (1791-1877)
by Oliver Tarbell Eddy who painted portraits in
Baltimore during the 1840s.

 Impressive work to have made at least 7 quilts at the age of 18. This cut-out chintz medallion quilt is one the earliest date-inscribed examples of Broderie Perse in my files. 

Few applique quilts inscribed before 1810 survive.
I went back to Dunton's book and saw he took a photo of the date.

In cross stitch on the backing
"The lining is coarse, 30 threads to the inch, making the 
process of padding moderately easy."

It seems quite obvious to me today that whoever finished this quilt used an old sheet, possibly linen, to back the patchwork top. Elizabeth's initials with date and a number are very typical laundry marking on household textiles at the time. Girls learned the counted cross-stitch alphabet for that purpose.

Linen sheet marked 1745, Colonial Williamsburg
Linen sheets are durable. One could imagine someone using
this as a quilt backing a century later---and then we'd think
we had an American patchwork quilt from 1745---but we'd be wrong.

Elizabeth probably had six other sheets 1-6 and maybe numbers 8 and 9. Dunton notes that he also saw a "white woven coverlet which had the owner's date 1812, cross stitched on it and that this coverlet also belonged to Elizabeth Stouffer and bore her initials," but showed no photo.

Elizabeth mid-19th-century
From her FindaGrave site

He also pictured a quilt "made by Ann Stouffer and owned by Mr. Gilman D'Arcy Paul." 

"Made by Elizabeth's sister, Ann of the same design. Even measurements are the same."  Dr. D.

He doesn't give a date estimated or inscribed for this very similar quilt with the same borders, applique of similar fabric and stuffed quilting.

One quilt superimposed upon the other.

When laid one atop the other they are indeed of the same measurements, rather remarkably so.
He tells us the quilting designs are different as is fabric in the triangles and Ann's is a more sophisticated tree. Here we have one more example of duplicate (and more multiples) made in Baltimore and vicinity, indicating either very industrious Maryland hobbyists or very industrious professional needlework shops. 

MESDA has a schoolgirl sampler by Ann Tinges Stouffer in their collection.

The relationship between Elizabeth Stouffer and Ann Stouffer is actually that of sisters-in-law. Elizabeth Ann Clair Tinges Stouffer (1790-1864) married Elizabeth's brother Jacob Stouffer in 1816. (Just to add to the plot they begot another Anna Clare Stouffer (1832-1892) who married a man named William White.)

I am tempted to go on about the Stouffers and the Garretts but the point (I remember now) is that the tree-of-life chintz applique quilt with the date 1809 cross-stitched on the reverse is NOT the earliest dated tree of life chintz quilt. The backing is a dated sheet. We have to guess the date of the patchwork top and I'd go for the 1820s when similar quilts begin to become popular.

Sarah Gilmer's 1826 quilt from the North Carolina project.

I feel I have resolved the contradiction between style and the 1809 date, but
now I have a new mystery to pursue. Why did Ann Stouffer and her sister-in-law
Elizabeth Stouffer have two such similar quilts?

The conventional wisdom would be that the well-to-do women worked together on them... but I am not buying that anymore, especially in Baltimore. I think these were purchased luxury items from a professional workshop and Baltimore was a center of such manufacture in the years 1820-1860. Charleston was another.

Perhaps the Stouffer households did the quilting, using one of Elizabeth's linen sheets for a backing on hers. The whole question of all these multiple quilts from Frederick to Baltimore is quite a conundrum. The old answers just don't work. Old answer: Someone stitched one for each of her children.

New answer?

Read more about quilts with dated sheets on the reverse.


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