Monday, November 29, 2021

Kentucky Quilt Shown at the 1851 Crystal Palace Expo

Chintz commemorating the 1851 London Exhibition,
known as the Crystal Palace after the glass building built to house it.

A while ago I discussed the lack of accurate information about quilts shown at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Here's a story about a quilt reliably said to have been shown in the first of these international shows, Prince Albert's Great Exhibition of 1851 at London's Crystal Palace, also shown
at New York's Exhibition a couple of years later.

At the top of the list here in one of the textile categories was
Kentuckian Ellen Anderson's "Henry Clay" Patchwork Quilt for 
which she won a bronze medal.

New York City held their own Crystal Palace exhibit in 1853 and Ellen entered the piece, again winning an award and newspaper acclaim.

Kentucky was proud of Ellen Anderson. 
(We'll have to find out about Mary Ann Coleman of Louisville later)

"Is it possible that's made in Kentucky!"

The Kentucky Quilt Project recorded the quilt in the mid 1980s.

Lucretia Hart Clay (1781-1864) and Henry Clay(1777-1852) on
the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary in 1849.

Ellen S. Anderson (1828-1902) was the great niece of Lucretia Hart Clay. Her grandfather Thomas Hart was Lucretia's brother.

 The 1850 census records her living in a household of women. (with two teenage brothers.) Her father George W. Anderson is not listed with the family although he is back with them ten years later.
There is a lot going on here that is difficult to figure out. There are indeed many women in that house: 13 females and two boys and that is just the white people in a slave-holding home.
We can start with Mother Eleanor and her five daughters 3 years old to 25.

75-year-old Eleanor Hart who may have been household head was Eleanor's mother. Her daughters Mary and Sarah were 20 and 19. Then we have apparently unrelated women in their late teens and early 20s: Catherine Bell, Mary A Pierce, Arabella Pierce and Ellen Murray. This fourth Ellen/Eleanor was born in Scotland.

We can also look at the 1850 schedule counting the slaves held by people in Jefferson County. Is E.M.
Anderson Ellen's mother? This Kentuckian is listed with two women in their twenties and three children under 7. Two more women to add to the list. In 1821 Eleanor the elder inherited 7 enslaved people from her father: Lewis, Milo, Edward, Edmond, Jack, Sophia and Cornelia, perhaps these people or their parents.

That long list of women includes people who may have worked on this quilt. We have a house of 15 women and a world class quilt. One wonders if its reputation did not increase business for a dressmaker's business, a dry goods shop such as James Anderson's in Louisville or a wholesaler like Thomas Anderson (a relative) who ran an auction house selling dry goods and shoes. My guess at the Anderson family business was confirmed in a biography of Ellen's husband John McCord Harris. He "married Ellen L. Anderson...daughter of George W. Anderson, a Louisville Merchant." George W. Anderson was a partner of Thomas.

Louisville Courier-Journal ad, 1852

Genealogical Narrative of the Hart Family

In 1856 Ellen Anderson married John McCord Harris (1813-1883), a Richmond, Kentucky doctor. 

Eastern Kentucky University collection
Their house in Richmond still stands at 515 West Main.
After John's death Ellen married Frank Ditto. She lived till 1902.

Her famous silk quilt seems to have had several incarnations over the years. It began as a six-pointed star quilt, probably pieced over paper with a tight running stitch.

Many of the stars had faded 130 years later when this
photo was taken.

The New York Herald, August, 1853:
"The body of the quilt is laid out into stars, each being different in color, and all of them presenting variegations which would be difficult to surpass. The centre of each star is decorated, some by a likeness of the illustrious Kentuckian, and others by an American eagle."

The stars do not appear to be quilted. Each center is a hexagon
with six points framed by shapes of 5-sides each set with white diamonds.

As his great-niece, Ellen must have had access to a good deal of silk printed with portraits of the perennial presidential candidate. 

The border is S-o-o-o Kentucky.
"Around the edge of the quilt, about six inches in width is a raised oak wreath, consisting of the leaves and the acorn."

The fringe is brown in this photo from the 1980s---looks like a replacement.
In the 1850s: "a very heavy white silk fringe, fully twelve inches in depth."

A photo of the quilt in 1942 from the Louisville Courier-Journal.
We see the stars and the border. The fringe looks dark.
The center is vague.
"In the center of the quilt is a large monument, surmounted by an urn and immediately under the urn is written ----Session 1850--and below this is [a] Latin motto..." 1853.
The snapshots taken in the 1980s indicate that the quilt was not
 quilted. Perhaps the layers were tied or tacked together.

A more recent version is now in the collection of the Henry Clay home Ashland in Lexington.

It looks like the same star centers and maybe the same stars but the brown silk background is a different fabric and the connecting shapes are no longer diamonds but hexagons. The piece is quilted and bound with a purple border.

This might be all that remains of the wonder of 1850s Kentucky.
Silk can be so fragile. Someone appears to have salvaged stars
and reworked it.

That needlewoman may be Eleanor Garrison Kremer 1892-1986, daughter of Nannette Harris Garrison and perhaps the maker's great-granddaughter. Genealogy in the 1942 newspaper article is a bit confusing.

A long journey across the ocean and back over 170 years.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Six Know-It-Alls Giveaway


The Give Away is over. Louise (the 10th comment) is the winner! Thanks to the commenters/contestants.

Me and a few friends put on a show once a month.
We sit around and talk about antique quilts in a Zoom get-together for an hour or so.
We Six Know-It-Alls have been doing this nearly all year.

The Six

From Debby Cooney

Each Know-It-All shows a quilt to the rest of us, tells us what she or he knows and then we each
throw in our 2 cents worth. As we and our guests have different areas of expertise we try to give a fairly comprehensive view of the quilt, the fabrics and the historical context.

From Merikay Waldvogel

If you have questions and comments post them at our Facebook group: 6KnowItAllsShowUsYourQuilts

I gave away tickets to two shows, November's & December's.
(A $25 value)
With the tickets you get permanent access to the videos.
So you get more than 2 hours worth of entertainment,
(And information!)

In November we showed four quilts and had  
guest Know-It-All Alex Anderson.

In December we have scheduled guest Kyra Hicks
and we are going to talk about Masterpiece Quilts.

You can watch the trailer (preview) for November's episode #9 here:


We'll do another Give-Away for free tickets some time soon.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Professional Album Quiltmakers in Philadelphia


The Brainerd Quilt
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Approximately 120" x 108"
Detail of a quilt with about 100 cut-out-chintz applique blocks,
 many of them inked with names and dated 1846.
Attributed to women of Philadelphia's Third Presbyterian Church. 

For the past five years or so I have been enamored of the idea that quilts like this extraordinary feat of needlework were not the work of the women whose names appear on the blocks but of professional seamstresses who sold blocks or kits of cut-out chintz to the signers.

Wallace Nutting's staged photographs of "Colonial Quilters"
in the early 20th century helped shape our ideas of 
quiltmaking's origins.

This theory is a contradiction to our belief that quilting is a folk art with commercial needlework such as kits or patterns somehow less authentic than true folk art.

Authentic folk art: rural women, preferably
older women, making quilts for the love of it.

Magazine illustration by Jean Oldham
Profit? Puh-leaze! Don't mention it.

New Jersey album, International Quilt Museum collection

Somewhat astonished by my picture file of 30 quilts with this dahlia chintz I figured I had to find a new origin story for these album quilts, primarily made in the Delaware River Valley from Philadelphia to New Jersey. Why were so many of the blocks in so many different quilts almost identical?

Chintz carefully trimmed, assembled and stitched to
a matching background.

As I said in our recent Six Know-It-Alls episode #7: After working on many group quilts I also wonder how you get 100 amateur seamstresses up to the standards you see in these early-to-mid-1840s album quilts. The style was new; the process is not easy. (I have started several cut-out-chintz quilts---hard to compose and stitch for a novice.)

Doesn't it make more sense to credit the quilts as products of professional needlewomen who sold finished or basted blocks to members of a group interested in giving such a gift? Might those commercial seamstresses have promoted the idea of a group quilt as a fashionable gift?

Researchers studying album quilts in Baltimore
stitched of conventional applique have ample evidence
of professional needlewomen selling finished
 and basted blocks

I have nagged about my hypothesis for several years. Two years ago I did a year-long blog on my theory: Women's Work: Making a Living Making Quilts.
Here's a post on the topic:

 But it's just a theory. I've never found a newspaper advertisement offering these chintz squares for sale or a diary entry mentioning a purchase. However, I was recently reading last winter's copy of Blanket Statements, the quarterly newsletter for members of American Quilt Study Group and came across good evidence of a similar business plan in Philadelphia.

William and Charlene Stephens visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art to look once again at a quilt made of the dahlia chintz dated 1841 (quite early in the inked album fad) that was "made for Miss Jane Gordon."

Identical red calico album blocks surround an inked cut-out chintz
center with a dedication interpreted as indicating
 it was presented to Miss Jane Gordon. 

Charlene's photo of the professionally inked presentation block

The caption for the quilt has long been interpreted to say:
“Made and presented to Miss Jane Gordon & Co."
 Jane and Co. was thought to mean Jane and her betrothed. 
Other presenters with names in the ribbon:
Mary Anne Skerrett, EB Phillips, Juli[a]n Phillips, E. Phillips.” 

Charlene and William had been researching the dry goods business in Philadelphia. They realized that "Jane Gordon & Co." was indeed part of a commercial company---not the bride & groom. The quilt was a gift to George Shortread Lang and his 1841 bride Annie Traquair. The Stephens found that Lang owned Lang's Dry Goods and Jane Gordon, Mary Anne Skerrett, EB Phillips, Juli[a]n Phillips, E. Phillips were  employees, who presented the quilt to him.

I had done some work on Lang's Dry Goods myself. George Lang and his sister Jane Lang are often in the business directories. Jane Lang's dry goods business is listed from 1839 until after the Civil War with stores located at various spots on North 8th Street and 733 Filbert Street. Jane Lang remained single and made a good deal of money in the dry goods business. See a post on her:

So Jane Gordon, Mary Anne Skerrett and the Phillipses worked for Jane Lang and brother George.

The caption has been updated.

The central block is the only place with inking. All the red and white blocks in the pattern often used for album quilts are blank. Did the dry goods department seamstresses make this quilt and finish it with the expectation that George and Annie Lang would ask friends to sign the blocks---something that never happened? Do recall that the wedding and the quilt are from 1841, early in the album quilt craze. Maybe Annie had no idea how or why to add names to her quilt.

Collection of the National Museum of American History
Dahlia block from another Philadelphia album dated 1843

Well, I am still speculating but the correct attribution for this quilt does add some evidence to my theory that professional seamstresses and the commercial dry goods business contributed to the album style.

More on Jane Lang's store:
In 1891 the Philadelphia Times printed two articles recalling Jane and her employees. One sales clerk was Irish woman Diana Blake who was quite pretty and eventually married European royalty. Diana worked at Jane Lang's, selling gloves to gentlemen.

We learn Miss Lang (Rachel is not her first name) was a 
"kindly old Scotch lady" who preferred to hire women clerks rather than men.
(Saleswomen were often a shock to country women visiting Philadelphia.)

A follow-up letter to the Times recalled Jane Lang's store was once
"as noted as Wanamaker's now." Jane was "tall and very thin and
wore a cap." 

Wanamaker's Department Store about 1900


You probably would like to read the Stephens's article in Blanket Statements but you have to be a member. (One very good reason to join.)

The dahlia bouquet fabric:

Thursday, November 18, 2021

American Guides: American Folk Arts


When I was young and gas was 25 cents a gallon and
 pick-ups got 10 mpg we just drove and drove.
I always packed a WPA guide from the library.

Written during the 1930s by underemployed writers,
these books captured a view of America
and a backroads route plan.

You'd learn a little history, a lot of geography and you could follow their tours.

Because we were reading them 50 years after they
were published we were sometimes disappointed to
find the item of local interest no longer standing.

Lucy the elephant building in New Jersey

Although one often came upon a wonder and the tours did get you off the interstate.

So I enjoyed Scott Borchert's recent book about the guide books
following him into many of his own detours.

Like this summary of the rise of interest in folk arts and the Colonial Revival through the twenties and thirties. But that interest was changing, too, 
"morphing into a more capacious fascination with the everyday stuff of American life and the idea of a distinctive American culture. It's permutations were visible in the collection and study of folk materials...."

Quilt dated 1822 by George E. Rhone

Attitudes that gave rise to another W.P.A. project The
Index of American Design, which hired artists to paint
watercolors of quilts in the late 1930s.

The Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art has many of the paintings
on line and they add to the database.

Baltimore album by Lillian Causey

We take an interest in the art of the folk so for granted. I found it fascinating to consider the origins and changes over the generations.