Saturday, March 26, 2022

Eagles in A Wreath of Berries (?)


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.
Same wreath.
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:


  1. The bird design reminds me of frakturs. The stylized birds often are simple in shape, with strongly featured legs/feet, and often with berries in their beaks.

  2. Do the berries and leaves *have* to be from the same plant? If they put a sweater vest on the eagle instead of the shield, reality isn't the strong suit of the design.
    Maybe the quilter got the poke leaves wrong - there are 2 little leaves at the base of the large leaf on that botanical drawing. Or could it be the real poke leaves were to plain, and the quilter wanted to show off their ability to do points and inside curves. As if over 100 single point leaves wouldn't get the message across! But 5 points on each leaf was either too much showing off, or more points than the quilter wanted to deal with.
    Or what about poison ivy? The leaves are closer, but the berries not so much.

  3. How about Currants? Their leaves are grape-like and they have those elongated clusters of berries. They might also have been more familiar in the past than they are to us today.

  4. I've seen wild grapevines in the woods produce strings, not bunches, of grapes.