Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sylvia Queen and the Garden of Eden Quilt


We are not often lucky enough to find a link between a quilt in a museum collection today and a newspaper article describing it 160 years ago, but here we have a quilt reliably attributed to Sylvia Queen (1803-1896) in the Johnson County Museum in Overland Park, Kansas and a notice in an Ohio newspaper in 1860 describing what appears to be the same quilt:

“A very beautiful quilt, called ‘Garden of Eden’ ” by Sylvia L. Queen of Chagrin Falls in Geauga County, Ohio, up by Lake Erie not far from Cleveland.

 It was raining so hard in Burton, Ohio that Sylvia could not officially enter the quilt in the county fair but the newspaper reporter and the fair board decided to give her a diploma anyway.

And she deserved it. I recently got to see Sylvia’s quilt. It’s a four-block floral applique with four vignettes in the border telling us the Biblical tale of the Garden of Eden, in which Adam & Eve live in Paradise but an evil snake comes along to seduce them into eating the forbidden apple of knowledge and they are expelled from the garden. Our ladder was not tall enough to get the whole quilt in the photo.

The Biblical tale in the borders.

Adam & Eve leaving the garden for the toil and troubles we’ve all been cursed to inherit, according to Christian tradition. You know the story. Sylvia’s figures are quite unusual. Here they are newly clothed in shame with aprons over their private parts. Adam is a dark silhouette somewhat naked but seems to be wearing socks. Eve---no revealing female silhouette here---she’s wearing a white silk dress, a shift or undergarment indicating her nudity.

The pair have distinctive personal features. Adam is definitely diabolical looking with his purple face---two-faced? Who is the devil here? Adam or the snake??? (Sylvia, a single woman in her late fifties at the time had been married at least twice.)

Eve looks to be wearing the conventional ladies’ cap 
with a tight bun as a hairdo.

A few years ago textile conservator Harold Mailand spent a good deal of time stabilizing and restoring this quilt, adding silk over Eve’s shattered garment here, cleaning the piece and adding undamaged fabric over some of the cotton, wool, and linen details. He did a beautiful job.

The background is a reddish/yellowish tan, hard to capture in a photo in the workroom light, one reason the photos shift from pink to gold. Some fabrics like the grapes appear to be wool; the background---linen??? If so we have all four primary natural fabrics of the era here.

The grapes are an important part of the border, but grapes are not the "forbidden fruit," which is the apple. The many apples in the border are no longer red. Were they wool fabric that did not hold its color? We guessed the scalloped binding was once red too.

Did the red dye in the apples and edging bleed into the entire piece, coloring it that rather unusual pinkish/yellowish tan? Red wools were not meant to be washed…. But linen does not take color easily. Did she choose a tan linen as background? Many mysteries. 

Tomorrow and a few more posts: Sylvia Queen and a second quilt attributed to her.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, very pretty and your interpretation is food for thought