Quilts

A Boy's Quilt

89_30_1T1 Quiltmaking in America has a strong association as women’s work. But, men and boys occasionally did make a quilt. The quilt seen here, from the National Heritage Museum collection, was made by a young man, Kenneth Artemus Snow (b. 1862), in the late 1870s.

Boys and young men often made quilts as a way to pass the time while bedridden due to illness or injury. Indeed, the family history of this quilt tells us that Snow spent several months in bed as a teenager and his mother gave him these materials, which he stitched together in his own design. By 1880, Snow seems to have recovered from his illness. The U.S. Census taken that year lists him as a grocery clerk.

In addition to the vibrant patterned silks and embroidery in the top, the quilt includes a printed commemorative ribbon from the 250th anniversary celebration of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, held in 1886. The inclusion of this ribbon suggests that, although Snow made some of the blocks, his mother may have finished the quilt top years later. And it was almost a century later still before women of the Whitman, Massachusetts, Baptist Church attached the backing and tied the quilt in 1970. In 1989, Snow’s granddaughter generously gave the quilt to the Museum.

Crazy Quilt, ca. 1886, Kenneth Artemus Snow (b. 1862), Dorchester, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Muriel I. and Otis B. Oakman Jr., 89.30.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Reference: Aimee E. Newell, “Boys’ Quilts,” in Lynne Zacek Bassett, ed., Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth, Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2009, 224-227.


A Freedom Quilt

91_003T1 I’ve recently updated the cataloging on some of the quilts in the National Heritage Museum collection, with the help of volunteer Cathy Breitkreutz. When we came across this quilt, which had a photo in our database, but no description, I was dismayed. It was rather poorly quilted at three stitches to the inch and the piecing was not much better, with few points matching precisely.  The fabrics used in the quilt also seemed odd, both in how they were put together and in terms of their patterns. As we filled out a worksheet describing and documenting the quilt, I had trouble understanding why it was in our collection.  I even wondered whether I should consider it for deaccession (removal from the collection).

But, then, I looked in the file and learned that the quilt was donated to the Museum in 1991, after it appeared in the exhibition, "Folk Roots, New Roots: Folklore in American Life." In the file, it was described as a “Freedom quilt.” So, all right, I thought, it was given to someone as a 21st birthday gift, which was my understanding of freedom quilts, based mostly on my knowledge of nineteenth-century quilts. But, I dug a little deeper and discovered that in the 1960s, a “Freedom quilt” had an entirely different meaning – it was associated with the Freedom Quilting Bee, a cooperative that was formed in 1966 in Alabama as a way to allow local women to support themselves and their families through their quilts. The best-known group of these quilts has recently made news as it toured museums across the country in the exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

This particular quilt slightly predates the formal Freedom Quilting Bee, which adopted a charter in March 1966. It was made around 1965 and was one of the first to be sold. The purchasers, Dr. Theodore Klitzke and his wife, Margaret, lived in Alabama at the time, where Dr. Klitzke was head of the art department at the University of Alabama. The quilt demonstrates the graphic patterns and strong color choices that are hallmarks of this African American quilting tradition. Like many of the Freedom quilts, this one includes scraps of black fabric in the pattern.  It is composed of nine blocks in an eight-point star pattern.

After learning more about this quilt, I have a much better understanding of how and why it fits our collection. We look for objects with a story – and this one tells a fascinating one. We also look to build our collection with objects that help us represent and interpret core American values like leadership, ingenuity, and family. The woman that made this quilt exhibited all of these. She used her own creativity to help support her family. And, the Freedom Quilting Bee took a leadership role in its communities to instill pride and participation among the residents, allowing not just the quiltmakers to benefit, but also their friends and families.  While the construction techniques in the quilt may not live up to exacting Victorian-era standards, I appreciate it as a representation of its maker's expressive vision, mixing personal choices and regional traditions.

References:

Nancy Callahan, The Freedom Quilting Bee, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1987.

Jane S. Becker and Barbara Franco, Folk Roots, New Roots: Folklore in American Life, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1988.

Freedom Quilt, ca. 1965, Alabama, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Annetta, Margaret and Theodore Klitzke in memory of Margaret Gaughan Klitzke, 91.003.  Photograph by David Bohl.


New to the Collection: A Masonic Quilt

2008_002_1T1 Quilt Overall So often quilts saved from the 1800s are ones that were only used on special occasions – quilts that were made not as warm bedcoverings, but as family keepsakes or gifts, or that held special meaning for the maker.  This quilt, a recent acquisition by the National Heritage Museum, presents a more utilitarian example.

While in good condition, the style chosen and fabrics employed in the quilt suggest that it would have kept a family warm, while hiding the dirt that was sure to accumulate over time.  The shape of the quilt, known as the “T-shape” due to its cut-out corners, is a distinctive New England trait.  Although some quilts from the 1800s with cut-out corners were made in other regions of the United States, studies have documented far more examples of this shape in New England.

The brown floral print in the center section was probably sold as dress goods.  The side and bottom borders are made from an indigo fabric with an overall white dot and periodic leaf motif.  The quilt is serviceably backed with coarsely woven cream linen.  The quilting is done with brown and blue thread, depending on the area, so that the stitches would blend into the fabrics.  The blue borders show a chevron quilting pattern, while the brown section is quilted in squares with parallel lines.

2008_002_1T3 Handkerchief Detail An unusual feature of this quilt, the Masonic handkerchief applied to the center, dates to about 1817.  The blue and brown fabrics also appear to date from the late 1810s, suggesting that the quilt was made between 1815 and 1820.  Printed in red, the handkerchief depicts an arrangement of many Masonic symbols with verses at the top and bottom.  Unfortunately, the maker’s motivation for including the handkerchief on the quilt has been lost, as has her name.  While it seems fairly safe to imagine that the original owner was a Freemason, or related to a Freemason, the handkerchief is also an interesting choice based on prevailing quilt style of the period.  Medallion quilts – those with a central design, often pieced or appliquéd – were popular during the 1810s and 1820s.  The addition of the handkerchief in the center of the quilt may reflect the maker’s desire to replicate that fashion in a time-saving and cost-effective manner.  Although women could not become Freemasons themselves, those who were married or related to Freemasons often expressed familiarity with Masonic symbols in their quilts or other creative endeavors (see our previous post on the quilt by Jane Haight Webster).

T-Shaped Quilt with Masonic Handkerchief Medallion, ca. 1817, probably New England.  National Heritage Museum, Special Projects Fund, Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 2008.002.1.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Detail of Handkerchief.  Photograph by David Bohl.


A Collaborative Masonic Quilt

Bunker Mulliken quilt cropped 2001_06 web large Six years ago, the Museum purchased a white quilt, hand-embroidered in red with 72 different Masonic symbols. Bearing the unusual inscription, “Drawn and designed by F. R. Bunker, worked by C. A. Milliken 1908,” this quilt kindled my curiosity about who made it and why. The sellers told us that family members gave the quilt to Carlton H. Smallidge of Winter Harbor, Maine. An active member of his local Masonic lodge, Carlton served as master in 1926. Family lore credited two of his aunts, one named Geneva Bunker, with making the piece.

Examination of the quilt and the family history attached to it led to more questions than answers. Specifically, why hadn’t Carlton’s aunt, Geneva Bunker, not signed the quilt?  And the 1908 date did not make sense, Carlton would have been only ten years old at the time. Over weeks, perusal of census and marriage records, as well as calls to the friendly and helpful folks at the Maine Historical Society, the Grand Lodge of Maine and the Winter Harbor Historical Society helped us piece the story together.

First, we identified the people who signed the quilt.  Freeland R. Bunker was a Smallidge relation and founding member of the Winter Harbor Masonic Lodge.  Celestia Alberta Milliken was Carlton’s aunt and a professional seamstress.  An entry in Bunker’s diary (part of the collection of the Winter Harbor Historical Society) confirms his role in the project.  In December 1907, he “worked some on designs for a Masonic Quilt….” In 1903, Carlton’s father, Hilliard, served as Master of his lodge.  Five years later, members elected him Senior Steward.  Freeland and Celestia’s collaboration might have been undertaken in celebration of one of these events.

Never used, the quilt passed from Hilliard to his son, Carlton, and, subsequently, to Carlton’s son. Over the years, the family preserved it as a memorial to Carlton, who died at the young age of 34, when his own son was only a child.

Not only does this object offer a documented story of family members collaborating on a quilt, it also illustrates how gifts become heirlooms.  

Bunker Mulliken quilt names cropped web largeDetails, Qui

lt, 1908. Celestia A. Milliken (b. ca. 1853) and Freeland R. Bunker (1845-1909), Winter Harbor, Maine.  National Heritage Museum, 2001.060.  Photo by David Bohl. 

References:

Musquito Harbor:  A Narrative History of Winter Harbor, Maine, 1790-2005, Allan Smallidge, (Ironbound Press: Winter Harbor, Maine), 2006.