Sunday, June 30, 2024

Indigo Resist #5: Current Scholarship on Sources


International Quilt Museum 
Wholecloth bedcover of indigo pomegranate print with a later pieced border.

Caption from their 2013 exhibit Indigo Gives America the Blues

In the ten + year since Nao Namura curated that show on indigo for the
International Quilt Museum, scholarship about the geographic sources for these early
large-scale indigo resist prints from the 18th century has evolved.

Collection of Colonial Williamsburg
Detail of an Indigo Resist wholecloth quilt they date as 1750-1800

The distinctive designs have been attributed to several countries of origin. See this series of posts about political and cultural reasons for hypotheses that the fabric and wholecloth quilts were made in the New York/Connecticut area in the 18th century. Currently, American origins have been dismissed as no evidence exists aside from the survival here of many similar bedcovers and fragments. England as a possible source has been considered but little evidence supports this claim.

Roderic H. Blackburn, Ruth Piwonka, Remembrance of Patria: Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America, 1609-1776, Exhibit Catalog 1986. Albany Institute of Art and History

Once we venture into the British & Dutch East India Companys' history of trade with the Americas I am way over my head. 

The British East India Company built infrastructure in India such 
as this late-17th-century trading post in Surat.

Headquarters in London, mid 18th century

One had to sail around Africa to deliver Indian cottons to England.
Then across the Atlantic to the American colonies from Massachusetts south
to the West Indies.

Paulus Constantijn La Fargue (1729-1782) was a Dutch genre painter who depicted many mid 18th-c women in The Hague dressed in large-scale indigo resist prints.

Detail of a market scene by La Fargue

It is obvious that British traders geared specific exports to specific markets. Laws as well as taste dictated what could be sold where. It seems apparent that English consumers were uninterested in splashy blue & white cottons while other trading partners offered a profitable market---New York's colonists and the Dutch who had much in common including a taste for similar prints, for example the Van Rensselaers.

Detail of a textile in the Albany Institute donated
by the Van Rensselaer family

The Van Rensselaers left Holland for North America in the late 17th century. Early and influential, they were granted enormous land assets in the area of Albany---700,000 acres. Dutch families with fewer assets also left similar textiles.

New Yorker Magdalena Douw (1718-179?) painted by Albany 
artist John Heaton about 1740 on the cover of Blackburn & Piwonka's catalog

Blackburn & Piwonka quote Philip Livingston (1686-1749) a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a New York textile merchant dealing with London who knew what his customers wanted---"Blew...All large flowers...None Small Single flowers."
In 2013 staff at the Metropolitan Museum exhibited related textiles and published a catalog Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800

Amelia Peck, Curator of American Decorative Arts, wrote about indigo resist textiles in the collection.
Unfortunately, Peck did not include a comprehensive discussion of the evidence but a glance at writing on the East India Company's trade in indigo prints suggest that all the boxes could be checked. 

For another International Quilt Museum exhibit on international trade see their 2019 exhibit Old World Quilts with some of their earliest textiles created during the growing trend for international trade:
From the section about India:
"Indian textiles were introduced to Europe early in the seventeenth century and quickly sparked a shift in consumer taste. Wool and silk fabrics were replaced in home décor and clothing with brightly colored printed and painted cotton textiles that were washable, colorfast, and comfortable. India’s long-established textile producing communities, particularly along the country’s eastern coast, were masters of mordant dyeing, a specialized technique required for adhering dye to cotton fabric." I add: The Indian artisans were also skillful at indigo resist 
Mending the Quilt, nostalgic print from the Wallace Nutting group,
early 20th-century.

Now, I have my own hypothesis I've been working on and it's what led me to this discussion. Quilts are a compelling version of American mythology because they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries seen as part of our British origins, specifically linked to Anglo-Saxon heritage. In the midst of 19th-century wars with Mexico and rising strife between North and South plus immigrants causing perceived threats to "Authentic Americanism" patchwork quilts stood for traditional crafts not derived from Spain, France or India. Quilts were associated with "hardy New Englanders."
Indigo Resist bedquilt attributed to New Englander Mary Wilber (1781-1846) 
Swansea, Massachusetts. Collection of Old Sturbridge Village

What can I offer as proofs for this hypothesis?---many anecdotal records ranging from Harriet Beecher Stowe's fiction to the Cooper Union Museum's record on attributions of the indigo resist prints. See three earlier posts on the topic:

And read a preview of Interwoven Globe here:

Connecticut Museum of Culture & History 

Make-do medallion bedcover made from a variety of scraps
including selvage edges of indigo resist fabrics with tax stamps,
attributed to a member of Connecticut's Comfort Starr family.

Warrants close examination!

Lynne Zacek Bassett sent some detail photos she's taken.

For more fabric styles that found no favor with English consumers see this post:
"Portuguese" Stripes:

The previous 4 posts on Indigo Resist and its sources:

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Indigo Resist #4: Printed in England?


In her 2014 update of Florence Montgomery's catalog of Winterthur Museum textiles curator Linda Eaton showed this pheasant and floral resist-style fabric, indicating that the cotton (with a bit of linen in the yarns) was "Printed in Britain 1760s-70s."

Albany Institute of History & Art Collection

Eaton cited that 1956 conference at the Cooper-Union Museum. Although curators Hathaway & Beer reporting on the results of that meeting were hesitant to credit a geographic source Eaton summarized conference results with the idea that the source was Britain as evidenced in the piece above. (See more about Hathaway & Beer at this post:

Barbara Brackman's MATERIAL CULTURE: Indigo Resist #2: "How Fools Rush In"

Fragment from collection of the D.A.R. Museum
in Washington, D.C.

Mary E. Gale and her advisor Margaret T. Ordoñez at the University of Rhode Island focused on the British source in Mary's 2001 thesis and two papers the team wrote about 20 years ago, in which they discussed another piece of evidence indicating British origins. In England's Baker Archive is a swatch book with several familiar prints from an English firm Baker & Tucker.

 “Eighteenth-Century Indigo-Resist Fabrics: Their Use in 
Quilts and Bed Hangings,” Uncoverings 2004
"The question of provenance of the [early] blue resists cannot be answered merely by the presence of a pattern book in England."

So in other words, English production is the hypothesis but very little proof is evident: The piece with the revenue stamp in Albany and the Baker pattern book in England.

Evidence of later indigo resist production in England.

 Late-19th-century English dyebook from
the William Morris & Company records. Morris
explored the complex process for authenticity in his
Brother Rabbit print.

Winterthur Museum Collection
Detail of an early wholecloth bedcover

Last Post tomorrow: So what is the current thinking about these indigo resist prints origins?

Linda Eaton, Printed Textiles: British & American Cottons & Linens 1700-1850.  New York, Monicelli Press, 2014

Mary Gale & Margaret T. Ordoñez, "Indigo-Resist Prints from Eighteenth-Century America: Technology and Technique," Clothing and Textile Research Journal. vol. 22 (Jan./March 2004): 4–14.

Mary Gale & Margaret T. Ordoñez, “Eighteenth-Century Indigo-Resist Fabrics: Their Use in Quilts and Bed Hangings”  Uncoverings 2004, Volume 25 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group. https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=page&kid=35-90-283

Gale, M. E. (2001). Indigo-resist prints from eighteenth-century America: Production and provenance. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Rhode Island, Kingston.

Hassler, K. (1986). Printing procedures for the historic American blue resisted cloths. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Delaware, Newark.

Pettit, F. H. (1975, 1976). The printed textiles of eighteenth-century America. Paper presented at the Irene Emery Roundtable on museum textiles: Imported and domestic textiles in eighteenth-century America, Textile Museum, Washington, D. C.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Indigo Resist #3: Testing Hypotheses

Smithsonian Collection Caption

The geographic source for these early indigo resist prints and the bedcovers made from them is a good topic for discussing hypotheses and their proofs. Over the past 100 years several scholars, curators and textile enthusiasts have expressed hypotheses ---educated guesses---on where they originated. Few have followed the principles of logic to prove their hypotheses.

Winterthur Museum Collection
Pomegranate print with a later cactus print border

Creative people often come up with fresh perspectives in hypotheses. In the 1950-1980's the Cooper-Hewitt Museum contingent (Hathaway, Beer & Pettit) presented several ideas about sources, primarily the idea that artisans in the Hudson River Valley printed indigo resist cottons and stitched wholecloth bedcovers from the cotton before 1800.

Very little evidence supports this hypothesis aside from the many such objects found in the region. To methodically look at the support for their idea I created a simple evidence checklist.
Looking at the evidence...

....only one box can be checked.

See the last post for reasons that might have motivated people in the Cold War era to ignore the lack of American evidence. Fear of political reprisal seems hardly a reason to cling to an illogical conclusion but motivation is often complex (and the 1950s were tough.)
Barbara Brackman's MATERIAL CULTURE: Indigo Resist #2: "How Fools Rush In"

One common reason to stick with an idea is stubbornness. Another is a misunderstanding of the logic required. E.g., "Just because no tools survive indicating 18th-c Hudson Valley indigo textile production doesn't mean they didn't exist but were somehow all destroyed."

Western Kentucky University Collection
A scrap that Florence Peto of New Jersey shared with
Elizabeth Richardson

One might argue that fabric production as long ago as 1790 is too old to document but we can look at early U.S. textile production and find fabric that clearly was domestically printed in the history of the John Hewson printworks in Philadelphia, established in 1774.

Several years ago Merikay Waldvogel and I spent much time discussing origins of furnishing panels found in chintz quilts made along the southern Atlantic coast. We were particularly interested in panels abundant in American bedcovers but not found in England or other places that might have had the technology to print them in the first half of the 19th century.

"Trophy of Arms" panel in a quilt in Donna Stickovich's collection
This panel is common in American quilts but not seen abroad. We guessed it might have been printed here. Evidence shown above indicates our hypothesis was wrong.

Block dated 1845 from inventory of GB's Best

I also once guessed that the enormous variety of multicolored calicos with Turkey red grounds seen in American patchwork after 1840 must have been printed here---a false hypothesis. They were a European import, a characteristic product of Scotland at that time.

Much evidence of Scottish production:

As we can see from the checklist the only evidence we might have for American manufacture at that point is the presence of the textiles. Abundant though the patchwork is we have nothing else to tell us that mills in New England produced these popular Turkey red commodities until after the Civil War---1870 or so.

So where were the early Indigo Resist cottons printed?
Next post---Maybe England?

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Indigo Resist #2: "How Fools Rush In"

From a Skinner auction a few years ago.

During the 1950s, New York's Cooper Union/Cooper-Hewitt Museum textile staff & volunteers spent time studying these early indigo resist prints, considering the geographic sources of fabric and bedcovers.  Florence Montgomery of the Winterthur Museum remembered attending a Cooper-Hewitt (Cooper-Union at the time) Museum seminar in 1958 (it was probably in 1956.)

UPDATE: I see I misread this paragraph. Montgomery is talking about a second seminar in 1958 where they invited English textile expert Peter Floud of the Victoria & Albert to consult. Did Montgomery attend the Cooper Union seminar two years earlier?

A dressed bed from the Metropolitan Museum's collection in Montgomery's 2007 Textiles in America 1650-1870: A Dictionary Based on Original Documents.  

Following the Cooper-Union conference two Cooper-Union curators spoke at the ninth annual Williamsburg Antiques Forum in February, 1957, a four-day event at Colonial Williamsburg that attracted 600 fans of "the architecture, furniture and decorative arts of the early colonies and young republic."

The event was publicized in late 1956 with a list of speakers who
were experts on "Colonial" collections. The Museum and
the influential magazine Antiques were co-sponsors.

Calvin Hathaway of the Cooper-Union Museum gave a slide presentation:
"American Blue Resist---A Puzzling Textile."

Calvin Sutliff Hathaway (1907-1974)

The kind of print Hathaway was discussing...

Much admired for Colonial decorating whether cotton or fiberglass
as in this set about 1960

Hathaway showing a textile to students at the Cooper-Union, 
where he was a curator from 1930 to 1963. He spent his later years
 as a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until retirement in 1973.

Before his presentation Hathaway included a warning about drawing conclusions. "How fools rush in, " quoted Valarie Edinger, women's page editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Hathaway's assistant Alice Baldwin Beer (1887-1981) also gave a presentation: "The Problem of the American Blue Resist." Ms. Beer had spoken on textiles at the 1956 Williamsburg gathering about a broader topic "Quality in 18th -Century Textiles." Her publications include the 1970 catalog Trade Goods: A Study of Indian Chintz in the Collection of the Cooper Union.

Valarie Edinger, summarized their talks: "While museums and finer Colonial homes of today have been happily using the blue resist as authentically American, textile experts have been scrutinizing the material under microscopes, studying old probate records, inventories and papers with a growing suspicion." 

Hathaway suggested blue resist is not authentically American but wouldn't commit himself to an actual geographic source. The experts were stumped, according to the reports of the papers. But were they really unsure or did they just refuse to give opinions on where the blue-resist textiles were printed? And if they refused to commit themselves to the obvious source---India---why would they be straddling a fence?
Recent IKEA sofa
Reproductions remain a standard decorating look.

It is important to recall the times in the mid 1950s and Ms. Edinger understood them well.

"Others are putting up a hard fight to prove it goes right along with other things Colonial."

Edinger outlined the problem:
Those putting up a hard fight refused to admit that a standard of "Colonial" decorating was not "authentically American" but made in India. The code here is "authentically American," in a time when anti-American hysteria was a tool of Senator Joseph McCarthy and other right-wing demagogues. By 1957 McCarthy was dying of liver cirrhosis.

He'd been condemned by the Senate three years earlier but in 1957 the Supreme Court was striking down some of his "loyalty oath" requirements, which were still in effect for many jobs. Was Hathaway hesitant to draw conclusions because of the political times, worried about espousing the heresy that an authentic American decorating mainstay was the work of foreign artisans? If we deny his hesitancy we  underestimate the political power of the Colonial Revival and the view of textiles as evidence of Anglo-Saxon and New England superiority.

Postcard showing the fabric use as bedcurtains in a Shelburne Museum room.

Captain Calvin Hathaway MFAA

Controversy over textile geography was a small event in Hathaway's life. In 1942 he joined the Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Unit tracking stolen artwork and cultural items plundered by the Nazis and hidden in mine shafts and palace basements. His work there was awarded a Bronze Star. Did George Clooney or Bill Murray portray him in the movie "Monuments Men" about the MFAA?"

Philadelphia Inquirer

Hathaway died in 1974. This obituary mentions his Army service but no specific information about the
Monuments Men and their search for stolen art. Perhaps it was still an official secret 20 years after the war.


Yesterday's post on Florence Pettit's influential ideas:

Alice Baldwin Beer's Publications:

Trade Goods: A Study of Indian Chintz, 1970
Beer provided an extensive and detailed catalog of painted and printed quilts, panels and assorted textiles manufactured in India for the Dutch and English markets.

Alice Baldwin Beer, "Block Printing: Europe, 17th and 18th Centuries," The Cooper Union Museum Chronicle, III, no .5 (October, 1963 ), pp . 114-142.

Next Post: Testing hypotheses on the sources.