Tuesday, October 5, 2021

1893 World's Columbian Exposition: #3 The Columbian Celebration Quilt


Anna Lee Merritt, sketch for a tribute to needlework mural
for the Women's Building at the 1893 Fair (mural now lost.)
Everything for the temporary exhibits was rather transitory.

Looking through records and accounts of the 1893 fair we see mention of intriguing needlework items--- among them something that sounds spectacular: The 'Columbian Celebration Quilt'

In the center an "American shield:  I can just imagine it.

 ...13 stars and spreading palm branches with...

The American Eagle

Appliqued eagle from the Fennimore Museum in New York

... bordered by strips featuring the the arms of Illinois (the state seal)...

(More eagles)

... and that of Spain" 

Bordered with corn plants....(?)

Laura Fisher Quilts
A pot of green corn?
... and cotton and stars.

A cotton boll

An extravaganza of applique (or is it embroidery?) 

The description above is from a London paper in March, 1893, which terms the corn "maize" (corn in England means wheat, rather confusing to us Americans.)

Imaginary the appliqued Columbian Celebration quilt will have to remain because it really isn't a quilt. Like maize/corn there is a translation problem. The New York Times explained it:

"Included is a spread, or quilt as it is called over there, which
is called the Columbian celebration quilt."

Oh, it's a bedspread. 

And here it is, a woven cotton spread from Barlow & Jones of Manchester, England
a cotton mill that processed cotton from spinning yarn to finished products.

(Toilet covers are not what they seem either.)

The centre---palm fronds. Cornstalks and cotton bolls in
the first border.

The photo of the "quilt" is from this fair souvenir book.

Which also showed The Empire Quilt, a companion piece.

Manufacturers like cotton mills designed impressive exhibits for
the international and national expositions, hoping to win medals
that could be used in advertising.. 

Well, that Columbian bedspread could provide inspiration for an appliquéd medallion.

What looks to be a souvenir bedspread

Tomorrow: A fair display of a quilt by an American-born Liberian.


  1. I'm from the midwest--farm country--and I've never seen a stalk of corn that looks like that example.

    1. Corn is so familiar to us and so mysterious to Europeans.

  2. Here's a quilt with the 1893 souvenir cloth in the Michigan State University Museum Collection

  3. I cringe when I hear people call quilts "blankets". I don't have any blankets in my house that are as fancy as the quilts!

    1. I so agree! You want a blanket? Go to the store and buy one. A Quilt takes a lot of time, for me, to make, a lot of time for me to collect the fabrics I chose for that particular quilt. A quilt takes a lot of time, thought and practice!