Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eye on Elegance

A couple of weeks ago, I (Teri) had the opportunity to join several other members of the Baltimore Appliqué Society for a tour of the current display at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC. The Eye on Elegance exhibit displays early quilts from Maryland and Virginia, most dated from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s. It was a privilege to have Debby Cooney and Virginia Vis share their expertise and knowledge of these quilts with us. I encourage everyone to visit this exquisite exhibit, which will be featured until September 5.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, Kara found that she was unable to go with me, so she requested lots of pictures. I did my best with my trusty phone camera (not ideal in the low museum lights,) but I can tease you with a few jewels from the day.

Being the lover of stories that I am, I was as intrigued by the history of the quilts as by the beauty of the stitched artwork. The museum has done a superb job of researching the provenance of the quilts. As I listened, I found myself picturing the families passing down these treasures from generation to generation, telling about the maker who lived so long ago.

One such tale involved the maker of a collection of counterpanes, a type of bed covering. Here is the center of one Chintz Appliqué Counterpane, made around 1820 by Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, possibly with the help of her mother or sister. The museum has three of the known eleven quilts that are attributed to Achsah. The center of this one, done in a cotton chintz which she apparently used in several of her quilts, really drew me. I can just imagine how magnificent it would be to appliqué and embroider the design of that basket of fruit! Part of Achsah's fascinating story involves discord with her family when she joined a church of a different denomination, and married someone from that church. In time, the family reconciled, and her brother even named a daughter after her.
This sampler was done by Achsah's niece, Achsah Wilkins Goodwin. I like to picture the two Achsahs sitting and stitching together, the younger mentored by the elder. Even knowing something of the story of the quilt, my mind conjures a vivid image of details that well may exceed reality. For a more comprehensive retelling of the story of Achsah's quilts, I encourage you to read the museum's Exhibition Catalogue, Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland & Virginia, by Alden O'Brien, 2014.

The following photos are from the center  of a Framed Medallion Quilt, made in 1823 by Amelia Lauck for her daughter. The quilting is incredibly stunning, as seen in the closeup of the quilted eagle. Note the initials of Amelia's daughter and her husband, stitched into the eagle's banner. 

Kara and I love appliqué, especially in the Baltimore Album style, and there were quite a number of quilts included in the exhibit to study and inspire. The history of Baltimore Albums is probably the subject of another blog...or book. This is a pretty awful picture of quite a stunning quilt top, a "Mary Simon-Style Baltimore Album," from 1846.
There were several styles of blocks in the Baltimore quilts, and there was some discussion about the meaning of some the the blocks. This quilt indicates that there was likely some kitting involved in these blocks, as many of them show up with the same or similar fabrics in other quilts. Sometimes the blocks were inscribed, giving us some of the story of the quilt, but sometimes we are left to piece together a story, based on historical events of the times. Some of them hinted at political statements or sentiments. 

Curator Virginia Vis gave an illustration that I thought was particularly interesting, as it related to our previous post "What's Your Story," where we encouraged you to record the stories of your stitched heirlooms. Vis pointed out that as we try to discern what certain motifs in a quilt could have represented, we can only ascertain what the needle artist might have been saying, based on how symbols were interpreted in that historical context. She suggested that if someone today were to see the Twitter logo, not knowing
what it was but just thinking it was a cute little bird, that stitcher might choose to appliqué it onto a quilt. If the needle artist has no record of what her quilt elements represented, or what story she may have been trying to tell, someone a hundred years from now could be studying her quilt in a museum and determine that she was "tweeting" how important Twitter was as a form of social media. Historically conceivable, but possibly nothing to do with the maker's intent. 

On that note, here is some eye candy for you to enjoy...just a few blocks from various Album quilts on display at the DAR Museum.
Interesting fussy cutting of the fabric for the flowers in this wreath.

The center of the heart wreath is ink inscribed with a quote about the "Blessings of Government," the name of a local printer, and a date.

The padded flowers and embroidery add to the effect of this basket.

The design and bright colors in this lovely urn of flowers are strikingly different than the style of the previous blocks.

How I love these little birds on this charming wreath!
I hope that gives you just an inkling of the stunning display of quilts at the DAR Museum, and you will be enticed to pay the museum a visit. If the location proves to be too far, fear not! We live in the digital age and you can visit via the cyber world. To see the DAR online exhibit of Eye on Elegance, click here. To order the Exhibition Catalog of Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland & Virginia, click here. This book is an excellent resource and gives a thorough account of the quilts in their display. I am finding it quite informative and interesting. (In fact, I referred to it when writing this post!)
Starburst Quilt, 1830s, unknown maker

Thanks for stopping by! We do hope that you will visit the DAR exhibit. We've given you but a tiny taste of the beauty to behold. Whether you visit in person, online, or with the book, you will be in for a visual treat—excellent quilts and/or pictures and the stories to accompany them. Enjoy!!

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