The American Museum itself is a visual history of America from the early settlers onwards. The story is told via a range of rooms set out as interiors were in various times in Americas history and in various locations. I have visited the American museum on various occasions in the past and this visit I mainly went to see the Quilts, so I will concentrate on that part of the museum only.
Most of the Quilts were together in the textiles room along with a collection of rugs. Throughout the museum however there were quilts and rugs in the interiors that they would have been made for. The Museum has over 200 quilts in its entire collection ranging in date from the 1600’s to the 1900’s, the majority of them American. In the textile room there is room to exhibit 50 quilts and they are displayed in vertical hanging boards attached on hinges to the wall rather like a large book. Each quilt is protected by a clear plastic sheet so as a visitor you can get as close as you like to the quilts without damaging them. You can also stand back and see the quilt in its entirety. This method of display seems almost perfect for the size of the room available. The majority of the time the quilts are covered by each other so they are protected from light damage. It also maximises the quantity of quilts that can be displayed in the room.
As well as the quilts there were rugs exhibited in a similar fashion, a table loom and embroidery samplers on the walls. The exhibits were each labelled with the date, Maker if known, and a short explanation as to the type of quilt.
The whole room was very stimulating and interesting especially as you can get so close to the exhibits and see the stitching used and the fabric in real detail.
SUNBURST QUILT: 1875-1900
St Cloud, Minnesota. Made by Elizabeth Mitchell 183cm x 165 cm
This Quilt is made from diamonds of cotton in radiating bands of colour from the centre out to create a large sunburst design. The sunburst is appliqued on a yellow sateen background with a floating border made from the same fabric as the sunburst. The quilt is backed in a red cotton with the yellow sateen folded to the back to create a yellow binding.
The whole quilt is quilted by hand in Diagonal lines to fill the sunburst and floral designes and a running feather pattern to fill the yellow areas. The quilting has been done in contrasting red thread on the yellow sateen and yellow thread on the diamonds.
The sunburst is a variation of the Star of Bethlehem but rather than ending up as an eight pointed star the diamonds create a pointy circle. The patchwork is hand sewn using paper formers.
I particularly liked this piece because of the beautiful floral Quilting on the yellow sateen. Also the contrast between the cotton patchwork and the quilting was very appealing. I would really like to have seen the quilting from the back but unfortunately the quilt was only visible from the front.
RED WORK QUILT: After 1881
Pennsylvania. Maker unknown 236cm x 236
This is a quilt top only made from over 100 blocks of natural cotton embroidered in red with scenes of everyday life and objects. Each block is 6 ½ inches square and they are joined with red sashings, this red fabric is also used for the border which has a floral design embroidered in white thread.
Red work became popular in the second half of the 19th century due to the development of the colour fast red dye known as ‘Turkey red’ and the cheapness of cotton. Penny squares with pictures already printed on them could be brought from stores but this quilt is not made from penny squares as the pictures have a rough look to them. The floral pattern around the edge however is more confident and is perhaps copied from a template. The stitching is very small and neat. I particularly liked this quilt as each picture is a delight and the themes almost randomly brought together telling a story of what the maker was surrounded by at different times. The fact that it is not backed and made into a functioning quilt does not seem to matter as it works well as a hanging. This piece was displayed in a room with other American Naive artwork and not in the Textiles room.
CRAZY PATCHWORK (PORTIERE): 1887-90
Monitoba, Canada. Made by Saedia Smith Johnson 183 cm x 119 cm
One of a pair of curtains made from crazy patchwork in silk, velvet, ribbon and brocade. Silk embroidery stitches of every type cover the seams and add embellishment. Some of the plain silk is painted with animals.
Crazy quilts are believed to have been the result of visits to the Japanese Pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. Many of the ceramics displayed there had a ‘crackle’ glaze giving the pieces a shattered look perhaps influencing the asymmetrical design of the crazy quilt.
The top left corner of the quilt is embroidered with the date January 24th ’87 and in the lower left corner is the inscription Finis August 1890. This quilt is full of examples of embroidery techniques. Pictures stitched using a variety of threads even using thick chenille wool and thin ribbon. There is even a flower made using hooks and eyes.
I particularly liked this quilt as it was so amazingly textural and a once in a lifetime type work. The embroidery was do different all across the piece and I found myself looking at it over and over discovering new Gems of design, colour and texture all the time. The fabrics used were mainly warm reds and yellows and the overall effect was one of luxury and opulence.
QUEEN KAPI’OLANI’S FAN QUILT EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Hawaii 191cm x 221 cm
This Quilt as a single-piece applique feather and fan design in red on white background with floral applique border. It has close contour hand-quilting 3.5cm apart and thick wadding giving the surface of the quilt a three dimensional quality.
Traditionally the Hawaiians used Kapa cloths as bed covers the climate of the island being too hat for multi layered Quilts. It is thought that missionaries introduced the art of quilting to the islands.
This quilt with its dark appliqued design and light background is typical of Hawaiian quilts, and the stylised feather and fan design is a traditional Hawaiian design.
The fans represent the fan of Queen Consort Kapi’olani, the feathers refer to the royal coat of arms, which is supported by a pair of warrior chiefs holding kahilis (feather plume standards). The border of the quilt is a Maile lei design, a traditional Hawaiian flower garland.
I liked this quilt as it is so different from the other three. I am also wanting to try this style of quilting for my next quilt and find myself drawn to them again and again. I love the 3D effect that the quilting has to the fabric and the strong form to the piece.