Last month, we showed a preview of the Museum of American Folk Art's exhibit "What That Quilt Knows About Me." The exhibit focuses on the relationship between the textiles and their makers. They range from traditional to outlandish. The Puerto Rican Flag quilt, made of made of condom wrappers, surely stretches the limits of our views of quilts as protective.
On a much more traditional end of the spectrum is a Whig Rose quilt with trapunto. The exquisite needlework was long assumed to have been the work of the wife of a wealthy plantation owner. Recent documentation revealed that it was actually the needlework of two enslaved women.
The following photos of these two quilts offer a glimpse of the range of textile possibilities made over a span of three hundred years by people from all walks of life.
According to family tradition, the quilt top pictured below was made to celebrate the engagement of Sarah "Sallie" Ann Garges to Oliver Shutt. Scenes from agricultural life on the family farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania enliven the otherwise geometric composition. The quilter initialed and dated her bedcover in the center with 1853, the year of her engagement. She depicted men doing traditional work such as hunting and plowing. One of Garges's brothers died young which is a possible explanation for the covered figure.
Sarah "Sallie" Ann Garges (c. 1833 – c. 1901)
Cotton, silk, wool and wool embroidery
American Folk Art Museum, New York; gift of Warner Communications Inc., 1988.21.1
The maker of this bedcover is unknown but the detailed images offer clues as to her interests. The depiction of several pugs indicates her familiarity with purebred dogs. In addition, the tropical flowers demonstrate an interest in botanical studies. Throughout the 19th century, the pursuit of botany was considered evidence of a cultivated mind. Floral motifs were also seen as associated with fertility, marriage and birth.