Sunday, October 3, 2021

1893 Columbian Exhibition #1: Crazy Quilts


Pillow dated 1893 by Mrs. A Sickafoose, Lyons, Iowa
from the Joyce Gross collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center, University of Texas

As I recall seeing this in Joyce's collection years ago, the pillow came in a wooden box addressed to Mrs. Sickafoose with a ribbon or award of some kind from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Lyons is a town on the Mississippi River, part of Clinton, Iowa. The maker there may be Mrs. Albert Sickafoose, Catherine, 35 in the 1895 Iowa Census.

Chicago held a huge international exhibition in 1893 on Lake Michigan.

The List
See the article here at the Quilt Index:

I listed the pillow as one of seven quilts reputed to have been shown at the 1893 expo in an article I wrote 40 years ago for Uncoverings 1981, the papers of the American Quilt Study Group, the first research I published on quilts shown at World's Fairs. Merikay Waldvogel and I followed that up with a book Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World's Fair. The quilts at the later exposition were better documented and I gave up on looking for 1893 quilts because there was so little reliable information. 

Illinois Historical Society 

Merikay reminded me of the 1893 fair in a recent episode of our Six Know It Alls, showing this
one that certainly has some association with the fair. We found out quite a bit about it and determined
it was not shown there but finished after the event.

What else could I find out about quilts at the Columbian Exposition now that I had old newspapers, genealogy and digital collections files at my fingertips? I thought I'd post all week on topic.

Emma Green Bull's crazy quilt in the collection of the Utah
Historical Society came with the story that it was exhibited at the 1893
Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

It's currently on display in Salt Lake City

Emma Green Bull (1828-1895)
from the Utah Historical Quarterly

Emma Green was born in England and emigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah after her conversion to Mormonism. There she married Joseph Bull, a printer, in October, 1858. They had at least two sons Joseph II and Daniel.

1880 Census
The Bulls were prosperous it would seem. The 1880 census finds them living adjacent to son Joseph
also in the printing trade.
Emma at top left with Joseph and unnamed women.
Family Search

History of Salt Lake City

"She was...the pioneer professional dress maker of the city."

As is often the case, the impressive quilt was made by a woman in the fabric business---in this case a well-respected dressmaker.

Statue of Brigham Young outside the Utah Building in Chicago
with a delegation from the state. The building was funded by women's groups.

How reliable is the story that Emma's quilt went to the fair? We can find no confirmation, a typical follow-up to most quilt stories from that fair. For Emma's the 1894 publication Utah at the World's Columbia Exposition mentions no quilts but we might guess that the Utah exhibit in its own building in Chicago included her quilt (and others,) items not valued enough to mention. 

Demonstrating weaving inside the Utah building.

In 1894 the same Utah-themed crazy quilt may be the item that won Emma a special prize, a gold medal at the Utah State Fair. It would be easy for a family story to confuse a state fair medal with a prize at an international exhibition. Perhaps the crazy quilt never saw the world's fair.

See a short article on the symbolism in Emma's quilt:
Paste this into your browser:


Crazy quilts were at the height of their popularity in the early 1890s so we should not be surprised to find them associated with the fair as exemplars of the excellence and refinement of women's work, although not everyone agreed:

A transcription of a later meeting about art exhibits includes this critique by a Mrs. Wolcott (probably Henrietta L. T Wolcott of Massachusetts) who thought there were entirely too many crazy quilts shown at the Columbian Exposition---evidence that several must have been shown.

Familiar enough to become a metaphor in the Holton, Kansas
Tribune in 1894.

Crazy quilts were shown but not mentioned in the records--- a puzzle for the quilt historian. More tomorrow on a quilt attributed to Mary Queen of Scots at the Fair.

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