Needlework

Quilted Celebrations of Masonic and Fraternal Activity

2011_059DP1DBThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library received the Masonic quilt at left as a recent gift.  It was made in 1981 and helps us bring our fraternal quilt collection closer to the present, allowing us to compare and contrast this quilt with others from the 1800s and early 1900s (see these previous blog posts!).  Anyone who quilted or sewed during the late 1970s and early 1980s may recognize some of the fabrics if you look at them closely.  We loved the story that the donor told about this quilt's history.  His aunt, a lieutenant commander and nurse in the U.S. Navy, made this bed covering for him on the occasion of his installation as Master of Crescent Lodge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for the second time.  Edith Bowen, the quilt's maker, bought a book about Masonic symbols here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library to help her design the quilt, which includes appliqued squares and compasses, cornucopias, a lyre and other recognizable symbols.

Shortly after we received this Masonic quilt, we were also given the fraternal quilt at right.  Made in 1989, it shows the symbol of the Pythian Sisters, a female auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias (for more on this group, see our posts), which was formed after the Civil War.  This quilt was a gift, honoring the accomplishments and volunteer efforts of one Pythian Sisters member, on the occasion of the group's centennial. 2011_066_4DP1DB

Have you made any Masonic or fraternal quilts?  Have you received one?  If so, we'd love to hear about it in a comment below.

Masonic quilt, 1981, Edith M. Bowen, United States.  Gift of Stephen J. Twining, 2011.059.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Pythian Sisters quilt, 1989, unidentified maker, United States.  Gift of the Estate of Geraldine M. Worley, 2011.066.4.  Photograph by David Bohl.

 


Lecture: “Embroidery and Economic Opportunity in Early Federal Period America”

Pamela A. Parmal
Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

June 11, 2016

2 PM

Lecture by Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As part of our 2016 Linn Lecture Series “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation” the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will welcome Pamela A. Parmal for a lecture on June 11, 2016. Parmal is a leading authority on historical needlework. Parmal has curated many exhibitions and published numerous books and papers on quilts, embroidery and fashion.

In her lecture on June 11, Parmal will discuss how women’s embroidery work fueled commerce and offered an opportunity for women to earn income to support themselves and their families in early America.

During this time young women from well-to-do families were often taught different kinds of needle arts, including embroidery. Mastery of these skills was seen as a reflection of a family’s gentility. Many of the embroidered pieces these young women created were treasured and passed down for generations.

Women entrepreneurs who possessed skills in embroidery arts opened schools to teach fashionable stiches and techniques. Many of the women who ran these schools also had shops that imported and sold embroidery supplies to their pupils and the public. These schools helped to generate trade by creating a demand for the imported silk and cotton thread needed to craft the detailed designs in vogue at the time.

Schoolgirl embroidery techniques can be seen in our newest exhibition, "The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection." Aprons such as the one below show evidence of embroidery techniques that were taught in the early 1800s at female academies. 

Embroidered apron 87_36DP1DB
Masonic Apron, ca. 1800. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 87.36. Photograph by David Bohl.

This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”


New to the Collection: Fraternal Needlework Mottoes

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Independent Order of Odd Fellows Motto, 1860-1900, unidentified maker, United States, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase, 2015.036. Photograph by David Bohl.

Recently, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library added the needlework picture on the left to its collection.  Stitched on brown perforated paper in a tent stitch (commonly used in needlepoint, the thread or yarn is stitched diagonally, making a slant), it bears the motto “Friendship, Love and Truth” along with several symbols related to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  Originally formed in England in the 1740s, the Odd Fellows are a fraternal organization for men.  The group’s founders looked to Freemasonry (formalized in London in 1717) as a model for their fraternity.  Like Freemasonry, the Odd Fellows perform degree rituals using a symbolic language, wear aprons and pursue fellowship and charity, among other activities.

Needlework mottoes like this one were especially popular for home decoration during the late 1800s.  The perforated paper mimicked woven fabrics and allowed the stitcher to create designs quickly using the simple tent and cross stitches.  The front of this needlework is quite faded, suggesting that it hung in a sunny area of the owner's home for many years.  The photo on the right shows the back of the picture, which was covered while it hung on the wall.  As this photo shows, the original colors were very bright.  It helps to demonstrate the fading and damage that prolonged sunlight can cause for textiles.

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The back shows the original colors. Photograph by David Bohl.

Shortly before we acquired the Odd Fellows motto shown above last year, we also added the motto at the bottom to our collection.  Initially, because of the all-seeing eye and the square and compasses symbols, the dealer offered it to us as a “Masonic picture.”  However, the lettering, which reads “Honesty, Industry and Sobriety,” identifies it as an Order of United American Mechanics motto.  Patterns for these mottoes came in many designs, including ones targeted to members of American fraternal groups.  Like the Odd Fellows, the Order of United American Mechanics also took inspiration from Freemasonry when establishing itself.  This is evident from the symbols on this motto.

The Order of United American Mechanics was founded in 1845 as a nativist anti-immigration organization.  One of its objectives was to help its native-born members find employment.  Given its focus on labor, the square and compasses emblem used by the OUAM usually has an arm in the center wielding a hammer, although that part of the symbol is not included on this motto.

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Order of United American Mechanics Motto, 1860-1900, unidentified maker, United States, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase, 2015.018. Photograph by David Bohl.

New to the Collection: IOOF Astoria Lodge No. 38 Apron

2015_027DP1DBFreemasonry is widely recognized as the first fraternal group to organize in America.  There are accounts of men meeting together in informal lodges during the 1720s. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formally established in 1733.  As the most venerable group of its kind, Freemasonry served as an inspiration for other American fraternal groups throughout the 1700s and 1800s.  When the Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in England in the mid-1700s, and came to the United States in the early 1800s, it followed the degree structure of Freemasonry and incorporated similar symbols and regalia. 

Among the early regalia items worn by the Odd Fellows were aprons.  Recently, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library acquired this Odd Fellows apron that was originally worn by a member of Maine’s Astoria Lodge No. 38.  Based on the lodge’s history, the apron dates between 1846 and 1862.  In 1846, the lodge was founded in Frankfort, Maine.  By 1849, the lodge numbered 83 members.  The last meeting of the lodge was held on December 30, 1862.  A brief published history of the lodge alludes to its dramatic end, “various causes combined led to the death of the Lodge.  Many of the members moved away, others lost all interest in the order, and a few proved themselves unworthy.  One, who held a prominent position, used a large portion of the fund, leaving worthless paper as security.  This soured and disappointed many, and finally the Lodge ceased work.”

Accompanying the apron is a receipt dated July 1, 1849, documenting that Brother Leonard B. Pratt (1820-1882) paid his quarterly assessments for nine months, for a total of $2.25.  Pratt lived in Bucksport, Maine, near Frankfort, where the lodge met.  Like many Odd Fellows aprons, this one is shield shaped and includes the fraternity’s three-link chain emblem, signifying “the only chain by which [members] are bound together is that of Friendship, Love and Truth.”  Odd Fellows used the red and white colors for regalia worn by the Noble Grand, the Outside Guardian and state Grand Officers.

The apron will be on view in our lobby, starting in February 2016, as part of a small exhibition of some of our recent acquisitions.  We hope you will be able to come by and see it in person.  See our website for hours and directions.  And, if you have seen any similar aprons or know more about Astoria Lodge, please leave us a comment!

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Astoria Lodge No. 38 apron, 1846-1862, unidentified maker, probably Maine, Museum purchase, 2015.027.

 


"Badge of a Freemason" Book Featured in The New York Times

The Badge of a Freemason cover ResizedThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to share a recent article from The New York Times antiques section featuring our book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  Click on this link to see the article.

The book makes a wonderful holiday gift.  To order, visit www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.  The book is available for $39.95 plus shipping and tax (if applicable).

Author - and the Museum's Director of Collections - Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., will be offering an up-close look at a selection of aprons from our collection on April 9, 2016.  The fee is $15 for Museum members and $20 for non-members.  Space is limited.  Register by March 30, 2016, by emailing programs[@]monh.org.  For more information on the workshop and on becoming a member, visit our website.

 


Brave the Snow to See our Cozy Masonic Quilts!

95.043.11 overall after consHere in New England, it’s the time of year when nothing seems more cozy than curling up in a warm quilt. There is no better time to visit our exhibition, “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles.” The exhibit is on view through March 23, 2013, so make plans now to see it before it closes. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with free admission and free parking.

Among the needlework on view is this quilt from about 1860, which is one of my personal favorites. I have always been drawn to its graphic nature. Unfortunately, it has rarely been exhibited because the red fabric was disintegrating and hanging it in the gallery would have caused more damage. Fortunately, we were able to perform some conservation work on the quilt to better preserve it and to finally show it off. You can see a “before” image below to the right.  As you can see, the blocks along the left-hand side of the quilt suffered the most disintegration. 95_043_11T1

This appliqué quilt is comprised of sixteen blocks showing the most common Masonic symbol – the square and compasses, signifying reason and faith. Freemasonry grew out of medieval stonemason trade guilds in England and Scotland, eventually becoming a fraternal society for men encouraging sound moral and social virtues. Freemasonry’s tenets are taught through a series of ritualized lessons using symbols to remind the initiates of important principles. Each block also shows the letter G, which stood for geometry, God, or both. At the corners of each block are four important Masonic symbols: a level symbolizing equality; a plumb signifying uprightness; a gavel reminding Masons to divest the heart of vice; and a trowel that spreads the cement that unites Freemasons in brotherly love.

95.043.11 detail after consTo get it ready for the exhibition, we worked with textile conservator Marie Schlag from The Studio for Textile Conservation in Scituate, Massachusetts. She painstakingly stabilized 35 different areas of the quilt with polyester organza.  The organza helps to reduce further disintegration and covers the areas where the foundation fabric is showing through.  This treatment allows the quilt’s red and green graphic pattern to come to the front once again. In this detail at left, you can see the muting effect of the organza where the red fabric has been lost. We are very pleased to be able to share this quilt in its newly improved condition with our visitors and look forward to caring for it for years to come.

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1860, American, Museum purchase, 95.043.11. Before photograph by David Bohl.


A Crazy Quilt

89_25S1As an amateur scholar of historic textiles and museum intern, I was excited when asked to assist the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum’s Collections Manager with transferring rolled textiles to a new, customized storage rack. During the process I was introduced to crazy quilts. Their heavily stylized designs struck me as modern and innovative for their time period. Crazy quilts became popular in the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century (1875-1900). Bright colors and embroidered motifs sprawling across a dark ground are characteristics of their Japanese influence. This brief glimpse at the treasures stored away inspired me to take a closer look at the textiles in the Museum’s current exhibition, “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles,” which includes a crazy quilt.

I asked my friend and colleague, Kate Herron Gendreau, to join me in attending a gallery talk led by Dr. Aimee Newell, the Museum’s Director of Collections (see our previous post). By trade, Kate is a handcrafted artisan specializing in embroidery and hand sewing. We share an interest in the details of female domestic roles throughout American history. When I mentioned my fascination with the crazy quilts in the Museum’s collection, I learned that Kate recently inherited the unjoined blocks of her family’s crazy quilt. I was eager to hear her opinion on the quilt in the exhibition in hopes that she might be able to enlighten me with some uncelebrated details. We never could have imagined that on the day of the gallery talk, family members of J. Bruce Spilman, who donated the crazy quilt to the Museum (in memory of his relation, Charles Hadley Spilman of Illinois, for whom the quilt was made in 1886) would be present!

The size of this quilt tells us that it was a decorative piece - at 76 inches wide and 68 3/4 inches long it is not quite large enough to be used on a bed - likely used as a sofa throw blanket or piano cover. Crazy quilts often functioned as status symbols, demonstrating that their female makers had leisure time and wealth at their disposal. Textiles made in the homes of women belonging to the working class were often simple or purely functional since daily chores and household budgets limited women's time and resources.  Unfortunately, the Spilman family members present at the gallery talk could not add to the quilt’s history, but by sifting through the notes I scribbled down while Kate swooned over “heavy hand stitching” on velvet and silk, I could see the lost story of this quilt come to life.

As Kate began rhythmically rhapsodizing about “isolated daisy chain, turkey trot and fern stitch … or maybe this is a zigzag blanket stitch,” I began to feel as if I was sitting next to the woman who created this masterpiece. While Kate explained that variegated stitching with this many color changes is something that is rarely created or appreciated today, I could envision the quilt in progress spread across the embroiderer’s lap. I was delighted to learn that many of the blocks are composed of clothing scraps. Kate identified several men’s ties and shirts as well as women’s dress and blouse material in the quilt. From these scraps we can perhaps form an impression of the personal style maintained by the household in which the quilt was made. Often quilters of this era repurposed fabric from clothing that had been stained or torn and could no longer be worn. This decorative status symbol may exhibit more frugality than we initially assume. 89_46_138S1

One feature that distinguishes this particular crazy quilt is the abundant fusion of conventional fabric and Masonic ribbons. Most of the ribbons in this quilt commemorate Knights Templar meetings in Chicago and San Francisco, dating from 1880 and 1883 (similar to the one at right from a Knights Templar meeting in 1892). Twenty-nine of the quilt’s thirty blocks include ribbons, some arranged in geometric shapes to mimic symbols used in Freemasonry. Most of the ribbons are outlined with an embroidered motif in yellowish-gold stitching that resembles the glory rays surrounding the Masonic symbol of the all-seeing eye, signifying watchfulness. As do many of the textiles in this exhibition, this crazy quilt presents a noteworthy example of the way Freemasonry has intersected popular culture throughout American history.

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1886, unidentified maker, United States, gift of J. Bruce Spilman in memory of Charles Hadley Spilman, 89.25.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Knights Templar Ribbon, 1892, unidentified maker, probably Connecticut, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 89.46.138.  

 


Lecture and Gallery Talk: Women, Quilting, and the Civil War

Be sure to join us at the Museum on Saturday, October 20. We are offering two free programs about women's contributions to 19th century American public life.

Pam weddingAt 2 pm, Pamela Weeks, Curator of the New England Quilt Museum, will present "Quilts for Civil War Soldiers: Stories from the Home Front and the Battlefield." Weeks is a quilt historian, appraiser, and artist well-known in the region for her expertise. She will share the stories behind three rare surviving Civil War quilts made by caring hands for soldiers fighting for North and South. At her talk, you can learn about the quilts, their makers, life on the home front during the war, and about how civilians organized to get desperately needed aid and supplies to the battlefield.

After the talk, Weeks will sign copies of her 2012 publication, Civil War Quilts, co-authored with Don Beld, which will be available for purchase. Weeks also curated the 2011 New England Quilt Museum exhibition "One Foot Square, Quilted & Bound." The quilts and objects she assembled for it explored a quilting method developed in New England in the nineteenth century. These "potholder quilts" were made from fabric blocks individually layered, quilted and finish-bound, and only then whip-stitched together — "one foot square, quilted and bound." Known in the pre-war period, the technique became a popular way for groups of seamstresses to work together to make quilts for injured and recuperating Civil War soldiers.

This is the final lecture in our 2012 Civil War series of programs. Look for a new Civil War series for 2013 - more information is coming soon! The series explores the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It also relates to Museum’s mission of fostering an appreciation of American history, patriotism and Freemasonry, and reflects both current research and exciting themes relevant to our world. The generous sponsorship of Ruby W. Linn permits us to offer the program in both series at no charge to the public. 

MasonicQuilt 1860For further insights into how women used their needlework to help shape public life in 19th century America, join Director of Collections, Aimee Newell, for a 1 PM talk in the "Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles" gallery on the same day, Saturday, October 20. See our previous blog post for more information on the talk.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo Credits:

Pamela Weeks. Courtesy of Pamela Weeks

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1860, American. Museum purchase, 95.043.11. Photograph by David Bohl.


"Threads of Brotherhood" Gallery Talk on Saturday, Sept. 15

Join us at 2 PM on Saturday, September 15 for an intriguing free talk in the “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles" gallery. Aimee Newell, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library's Director of Collections, will explore women's contribution to Freemasonry in the 1800s and the 1900s.

How could women play a role in the impact that Freemasonry, an exclusively male organization, has had on American culture? Tangible evidence of women's support for their male relatives' Masonic activities are the skillfully executed textile work on view at the Museum in the "Threads of Brotherhood" exhibition.

Since the 1700s, this work has connected women not only to family and tradition, but also to the larger community. Auxiliary groups of women have contributed to Masonic organizations for centuries, helping them fundraise, sewing their regalia, and providing lodge decoration. By stitching a quilt or hooking a rug, a woman could both demonstrate support of her relations’ Masonic activities, as well as her knowledge of Masonic symbolism and ethics. These cherished family heirlooms that signified family identification with Freemasonry also functioned as educational tools – teaching family members about Masonic symbols and reminding Masons of the lessons they learned in the lodge. And, like the quilts used to fundraise for political or social causes, Masonic quilts and textiles were – and still are – used to raise money for Masonic projects and charities.

76_33_1 3 figures_croppedOne of the objects you will see in the exhibition is this needlework picture, stiched on silk that has been painted with watercolors. The young woman who created it in 1808 copied the design of a Past Master’s certificate to commemorate Benjamin Russell’s (1761-1845) term as Master of Boston’s Rising States Lodge. You can read a previous blog post by Aimee Newell that explores how the detail in the image celebrates Bejamin Russell's tenure as Master of the Rising States Lodge. If you are curious about Benjamin Russell himself, here is a link to J. L. Bell's Boston 1775 posts on this very interesting personality.  

Textiles can teach us about the individuals who them.  Between the end of the 1700s and the 1820s, some young women, and possibly the unknown maker of this object, attending female academies.  These educational institutions catered to daughters of elite and middling families.  At these academies students honed their needlework skills and may have received instruction in making silk and watercolor embroidered pictures like this one. Needlework pictures were often vibrant scenes done in rich - and costly - materials based on Biblical, historical, memorial, and literary sources. Many female academies also offered instruction in academic subjects such as French, geography, and mathematics, in addition to needlework.  An education at a female academy in the early 1800s represented an investment on the part of a young student's family.  In some cases, costs for tuition, board, and materials at a female academy could rival that of sending a young man to college.

Join us for this gallery talk and see what other stories can be told through the Masonic quilts and textiles featured in "Threads of Brotherhood." There will be another staff-led gallery talk about this exhibition on Saturday, October 20. It will be held at 1 PM so that participants can attend the 2 PM lecture by Pamela Weeks on "Quilts for Civil War Soldiers: Stories from the Home Front and the Battlefield."

The gallery talk is free. For further information, call the Museum's front desk at 781-861-6559 or refer to our website.

Photo credit:

Masonic Needlework Picture, 1808. Massachusetts. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.33.1.  Photograph by John M. Miller


Celebrating a Past Master

76_33_1T1This silk needlework picture from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection is one of my favorite pieces.  It shows allegorical figures of Wisdom (Athena wearing a helmet), Strength (Hercules wearing a lion skin and holding crossed keys) and Beauty (Venus trailing a rose vine) and commemorates the service of Benjamin Russell (1761-1845) as Master of Boston's Rising States Lodge in 1808.

The silk background fabric has been painted with watercolors to create the blue sky with white clouds and the grassy ground.  An all-seeing eye at top, symbolizing watchfulness, and the faces of the figures have also been painted onto the fabric, likely by a professional artist.  The unidentified maker of this picture, probably a young woman, then used silk thread to stitch the central monument.  Masonic symbols and an inscription complete the picture.  Pictures like this one were expensive to make and required a stitcher to have skill with the needle.  If the stitcher made mistakes and stitches had to be pulled out, it could cause holes in the fabric, ruining the piece.

The design for the needlework comes from a Masonic Past Master's Certificate, originally engraved by John Hawksworth, active in England between about 1815 and 1845.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds eight examples of the printed certificate.  One, for Richard Colton of Northfield, Massachusetts' Harmony Lodge is dated 1818, but the other seven were presented during between 1896 and 1954, suggesting that the design remained popular for a long time and was restruck at least once.  The collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, on extended loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, also includes two examples of the certificate, one dated 1821 and one dated 1916.

The inscription on the needlework picture reads: "To all regular Lodges / The Rt. Worshipfull presiding and / past Masters / thereof / The / Members of / Rising States Lodge / situate in th[e] Town of Boston / No. under our jurisdiction / Elected Bror. / Benj. Russell / the bearer Most Worshipfull Master / A.L. 58 In which / station he was a Light to his / Brethren and an ornament to the / Craft / This testimonial of his meritorious / service recommends him to / the hospitality A.L. / and protection due to a faithful overseer / 5808 / by order of the Most Worshipfull Grand Ma[ster] / John Proctor Grand Secretary."

Benjamin Russell, who published Boston's Columbian Centinel newspaper from 1784 until 1829, joined the city's Rising States Lodge in the 1790s, later affiliating with Boston's St. John's Lodge in 1811.  From 1814 through 1816, Russell served as Grand Master of Massachusetts.

The picture is currently (August 2012) on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in our exhibition, Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles (see our previous post about the exhibition and this post about related gallery talks).  We hope you will plan a visit soon to see this picture in person!

Masonic Needlework Picture, 1808, Unidentified Maker, Massachusetts, Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.33.1.  Photograph by John M. Miller.