Saturday, February 24, 2024

An Unusual Chintz


We're looking forward to the spring opening (March 9th) of a quilt exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History featuring quilts from the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA.) 

Jenny Garwood and co-worker with the catalog.

A familiar floral....

I have a piece of that fabric with the gnarly branch.

Years ago Terry Thompson and I did a reproduction for Moda
in a collection called Lewis & Clark. We called this piece "Botany."

I was pleased to see it on the MESDA catalog cover as it is not a common print.

Quilt attributed to Lucy Hatch Whitfield (1805-1873)
Mississippi Department of Archives & History
See a post on this unusual quilt (with an unusual print in the areas between the 8-lobed florals) here:
It was once in the collection of Susan Price Miller's family linked to her great-great-great
grandmother who lived in Mississippi. Five cousins, descendants of Lucy Hatch Whitfield, generously donated it.

The floral in the center of the larger florals is quite common but those small
bouquets in the areas between the blocks ....

What surprises me about it is that it's an exception to the rule that when you look carefully at chintz quilts made before 1850 or so in America you see the same prints. It would seem that certain prints were imported here from England in great quantities and sold up and down the Atlantic coast.

But not this one. A related piece is in the Winterthur Museum's collection and it is not quite the same.  A serpentine stripe has been added between the branches---A rather strange addition.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Nostalgia: Quiltings Are Not What They Used to Be


F. Chapman, A Country Quilting Bee
Quilting "Bees" or Quilting Parties, as they were called early in the 19th century, were a popular topic for nostalgia that mourned an imagined way of life, long lost due to cities, industrialization, immigration and modern times.
"Reader, were you ever at a Quilting Party---an old fashioned quilting party....the thing is now nearly obsolete."
Colonial women at an old-fashioned quilting party

Readers might lament the obsolete quilting party, a "real old-fashioned quilting," as Marie Webster did in her 1915 book.

But the "Readers" being addressed in the feature on obsolete social practices at the top of the page here  were not 20th-century people but readers of an 1830 magazine feature.

It is quite surprising to find such lamentation for a defunct social event in the 1830s.

Esther H Cobb, 1832
Delaware Historical Society

Despite the survival of a remarkable number of almost 200-year-old quilts dated 1832 the cliche "old-fashioned" was attached to the item and its making.

In reality quiltmaking was thriving in 1832. With hindsight we can see quilters were inventing new styles and techniques: cut-out chintz appliques, innovative pieced blocks, lavish chintz borders.

Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts MESDA
South Carolina
Quilt signed and dated by Mary Miller Taylor, 1832

See a post on this quilt:

Obviously, the nostalgia of the 1830s was illusionary.
 But why are people so prone to become nostalgic even though 
the emotion has little basis in reality?

The American Psychological Association has an online interview with Krystine Batcho, PhD, professor of psychology at LeMoyne College who describes two types of nostalgia, historical and personal.
"If people are unhappy for any reason with how things are today, they're more likely then to experience this sense that things must have been better in the [historical] past."

Personal: [If today is stressful people think] "when I was growing up, I think it was less stressful. The reason for that is because our memories are not faithful. They're not accurate to what things really were like. They're our impressions of what things were like in the past."


North Carolina Museum of History
1832 Rosannah McCullough, North Carolina

It looks like the nostalgia for the obsolete quilting bee is a product of historical nostalgia. Just how stressful were the 1830s?

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1832 Euphemia Kitchen, Pennsylvania

Puppet Master Andrew Jackson, 1834

Divisive President Andrew Jackson, was elected in 1832 (having loudly contested his loss in the "corrupt" 1828 election) and began Indian removal, closing the National Bank and other political moves leading to the financial panic of 1837 after ineffectual Martin VanBuren took office.

Nat Turner's slave rebellion, terrifying Southern slaveholders, took place in 1831. The Battle of the Alamo in which Americans Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and 187 others were killed in Mexico and a great fire in New York City were news in the mid-30s. As slavery was abolished in England, Illinois abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837.

VanBuren lost his bid for a second term in 1840

I do think Dr. Batcho has described the influences behind 1830s historical nostalgia quite well. It sounds like a tough decade---and entirely too familiar.

The trend to nostalgia for old-fashioned qultings continued.

Kansas State Historical Society

But why are quilts so much a part of historical nostalgia? That is a harder question. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Valentine Treat


This cut-paper heart quilt was documented by the Arizona project in the 1980s.
The Turkey red print indicates it was made before 1860 or so. The
documenters thought perhaps 1850-1875.

The woman who brought the quilt to be recorded was the great-niece of a Kearney, New Jersey woman Katherine Lloyd Foster. The niece recalled that her mother acquired it from Katherine in the early 1950s. It's unlikely that Katherine who seems to have died after 1960 was the maker.

82" x 86"
An over-all picture with some Photoshopping

Without more genealogical information we haven't a clue as to who made it, but Katherine's mother Mary Foster was from Ireland, a place where you are likely to see heart-shaped appliques. That tradition was also common in the New York/Connecticut/New Jersey area.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Elizabeth Baile Manahan's Quilt: Widely Copied


Rather unusual block from an appliqued sampler quilt dated 1850 & 1851

Smithsonian Institution Collection
93" square

The quilt has been in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution since the mid-20th century, when
it was donated by the maker's youngest daughter. About 30 years ago the Smithsonian made an ambitious but ill-advised marketing move by partnering with an import firm to engage Chinese seamstresses to copy a few of their most impressive quilts.

A copy
The copies were, shall we say, adequate--- and they still bring a pretty good price paid by those who'd like an applique quilt for their bed.

Three on eBay this week.

The marketing idea was comprehensive. What
are you going to do when legislators will not fund 
national museums?

You could also buy printed tablecloths in various sizes. 

The whole idea was not received well and if you want to know more do a web search for Smithsonian Quilt Controversy.

There are a couple of other important points here, though. One, copies are common and novice collectors are sometimes fooled. Don't be.

The other point is to take a closer look at the quilt and its maker. As you can see the advertising copy called it a Bride's Quilt and that it seems to be. There are only two inscribed blocks indicating that Eliza Baile Manahan stitched all of them without help from friends or family.

Stuffed work strawberries in block and border

 And there is a consistency across the applique that supports this idea.
The 25-block quilt and fancy borders took her about 16 months to sew. She may have had help with the blocks and/or the quilting but we have no indication of that.

When dealing with Maryland quilts in that creative decade 1845-1855 one must ask if a professional seamstress was involved---drawing patterns, cutting kits or selling finished blocks. And Eliza Jane was a Maryland Methodist, women instrumental in popularizing the idea of friendship or album quilt samplers with help from professional designers and seamstresses.

In the corners of the morning glory block two dates are inked:
“E J Baile. Commenced June 1850”                             “Finished October 30 185l.”

Eliza Jane (people seem to have called her that) married Levi when she was 19 on October 11, 1851 at her community church the Stone Chapel Methodist Church in New Windsor, Carroll County, where they are buried with several of their 7 children.

Eliza Jane Baile Manahan (1832-1923)

Eliza's Stone Chapel Church

Her distinctive cactus applique tells us something about where she obtained her ideas.

Eliza's cactus applique and the inspiration

Yardage of the cactus chintz in the collection of the 
Winterthur Museum

From Terry Terrell's collection

Terry, a botanist, will tell you this is a Disocactus, a Rattail Cactus. Check out her wonderful website: FlowersonChintz.com

And read her paper on "Identifying and Dating Disocactus Motifs on Early Chintz," in The American Quilt Study Group's journal Uncoverings 2019

Mid-19th-century Baltimore spread
From one of Dr. Dunton's photos from Baltimore in the 1940s at WKU's Kentucky Museum.

The image was often cut from the chintz and appliqued. It is probably an English print exported here in large quantities.

Quilt associated with Adaline Wineberger Lusby,
date inscribed 1837-1838

The Smithsonian Institution owns another quilt featuring the rattail cactus
but this one is more conventional---cut out chintz.

So in Eliza's quilt reproductions we have a copy of a copy of a chintz.

How many other applique artists copied a floral chintz?
A good project for someone with a good visual memory.