A strange bird. Is that a sweater vest or an American shield on the breast?
It must be an eagle, the symbol on the Great Seal of the U.S., usually shown with
arrows and olive branches in its talons and a striped shield on the breast.
The Great Seal
The appliqued bird is not one of a kind. I saw the eagle on a four-block quilt offered in an online auction recently.
Offered by a Pennsylvania seller.
I was immediately reminded of one in Rod Kiracofe's book, The American Quilt.
From Gail Binney's fabulous collection.
Same striped sweater vest and branch of berries in the beak.
But an appliqued border echoing the wreath.
Both eagles have green heads and brownish wings, etc. This one came
from northeastern Ohio (up there by western Pennsylvania.)
And here's a third:
Found floating around on the internet as a "Slide"
This bird and the wreath are more complex. Thirteen yellow & red stars in the wreath. The others have only one green star. The bird looks a bit more like the Great Seal with a shield and arrows (are those olive branches?) in the talons. Same appliqued border but with added appliqued ovals.
What is going on here?
Obviously some handing around of a patriotic pattern.
Shall we say 1840's or '50s.
Although the first example may be after 1880 by its strip border and the way
the reds are fading to brown.
My major question is:
What are those berries?
Poke berries 1818
I'd like to think they were poke berries and had some
political connection to President James K. Polk who ran for a single term in 1845.
Polk & Poke plant
A search in newspapers of 1844 reveals how pervasive the Poke Stalk image was.
That is indeed what poke berries look like.
But not what poke leaves look like.
However, the combination of red berries and those trilobate leaves is a common image in mid-19th century applique.
Here's a version with a five-lobed leaf at top left in an Indiana quilt pictured in Marie Webster's 1915 book .
Now you might say it's a grape plant but the other berry block in the quilt looks much more like a grape leaf and cluster of grapes.
What is that leaf & fruit?
Read more about Poke & Polk here: