Thursday, December 22, 2022

Hewson Quilt on Display in St. Louis


You have just a few weeks to see this fabulous Hewson quilt on
display at the St. Louis Art Museum from their colleciton.

It's on exhibit with another of their chintz quilts, part of a show Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz they borrowed from the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. The last day is January 8, 2023. They added a few items from their own collection.

119" x 115"
I drove over there to see it and it was worth the trip.

You may not be familiar with Hewson quilts. 

John Hewson was a fabric printer in Philadelphia from 1774 to about 1810. He is best known for a  panel featuring a a floral bouquet in a footed urn surrounded by butterflies and birds. The panels were popular enough that many have survived in quilts and coverlets.

The stuffed work quilting on this is spectacular. Unfortunately we know little about
the quilt.

Lorie Stubbs took a great photo of the stuffed work date.

But what those initials are and who made it remain a mystery.

The quilt was donated by Miss Mildred Petrie (1888-1976) in 1948. Mildred's family was from Mississippi and maintained strong connections with Mississippi after they moved to St. Louis in 1904. Her brothers seem to have had a successful insurance business in St. Louis.

1934 obituary of Mildred's mother

In the mid 20th-century the unmarried Petries, Mildred and brothers Thomas & Lemuel, lived together in apartments in one of those lovely St. Louis buildings near Forest Park, which is where the art museum is located. Perhaps this woman without any descendants enjoyed visiting the museum and thought it a good place to care for the quilt.

The cornucopia chintz is unfamiliar. Are both brown floral
strips cut from the same print?

Was it a family quilt? Or did she collect antiques? Without further evidence it's all a guess, but here's the family history: 

Mildred, her brothers and sisters were born in Oxford and Jackson, Mississippi, children of Mary French Isom Petrie born in Oxford in 1848. Mary's parents were Thomas Dudley (1902) and Sarah McGeehee Royster Isom (1817-1888) of Mississippi. Sarah was born in South Carolina according to Mary's 1934 death certificate. Visiting Oxford from Abbeville she met Thomas Isom and they married in 1841.

Isom Place, a historic home in Oxford, dressed for a recent wedding

Nineteen-year-old Thomas Isom, born in Tennessee in 1816, came to Chickasaw territory in Mississippi as a trader working for his uncle John Craig and supposedly naming the townsite Oxford.

Oxford on what was once Chickasaw & Choctaw land 
in northeastern Mississippi.

After medical school in Lexington, Kentucky & Philadelphia he returned in 1839 and started working  on the house that still stands. He became a prosperous doctor.

Dr. Thomas Dudley Isom (1816-1902)
1870 Census, Oxford, Mississippi

Even after the Civil War, when he served as a Confederate surgeon,
 Dr. Isom was worth $30,000.

The Petries and the Isoms were buried in Mississippi. Once one realizes how strong the connection to Oxford it is understandable why these St. Louis Petries returned to graves in Mississippi. See all the Petries and Isoms buried in Oxford.

The 1890 Oxford census with Isoms and Petries, plus Polly Pegues, 
the young African-American woman who cooked for them.

Sarah McGeehee Isom (1854-1905)
Old Miss's Center for Women and Gender Studies is named for her.

Following family histories often sidetracks one to interesting women leading interesting and little documented lives. Mildred Petrie's aunt was another Sarah McGeehee Isom, her mother Mary's sister---one of nine children. The younger Sarah Isom taught oratory at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

Back to the quilt. We can start with the stuffed work quilting, a relatively new trend at the time.

The stuffed work in the Hewson quilt is remarkable. 

Laurette Carroll owns a quilt with similar stuffed work (but no filler quilting)
dated the same year, so we can see a trend.

Pennsylvania quilt by Margaret Grundacker, 1810 date
Lancaster Museum

Tennessee State Museum
1808,  Rebecah Foster, now in Tennessee but possibly made in Connecticut.
Lynne Zacek Bassett, expert on New England quilts, notes those stuffed work
circles or dots were common up there.

Foster & Hewson quilts with stuffed-work pomegranates or pineapple shapes.

But that's all so far away from Oxford, Mississippi or Abbeville, South Carolina.

And that Hewson panel. Hewson printed these in Philadelphia, also
 distant from the southern Petries, Isoms and McGeehees.

But..... didn't Thomas attend Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia?

That's a pretty weak link in the chain---interesting, though.

I digress. Do see the chintz show, ably curated by the Royal Ontario Museum's Senior Curator of Global Fashion & Textiles Sarah Fee, it would seem.

The ROM has some wonderful examples of printed cottons, old and recent.

Amazing what printers could and continue to do with just a few dyes.

More about the donor's family:

Isom Place's historic home nomination in Oxford:

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