Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Floral quilts and children’s folk portraits

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
The quilt collection at Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum has particular strengths in several areas. It has a number of rare 18th century quilts, and a significant group of high-style whole cloth, pieced and appliqué quilts from the first half of the 19th century; among these, the all-white quilts are especially interesting. Also of importance are the many well-documented New York State quilts, a number of which have complete information on their makers, and are often accompanied by family photographs and documents. Other strengths include a large selection of crazy quilts and a number of utilitarian quilts of the type common to rural farmhouses in New York State. Throughout the collection there are single quilts of great rarity, beauty and interest.

Floral imagery is the most common subject matter in American quilts and is very common in other folk art as well. There is a strong association between children and flowers, where the latter symbolize the innocence and bloom of youth. Folk portraits such as Samuel Miller’s Picking Flowers and Eliza Smith by an unidentified artist, illustrate this usage. Birds, butterflies and bees are related images of nature and are often linked to fruit and floral imagery. This association appears in the Trade and Commerce Quilt Top and the Basket and Framed Center Appliqué quilt.

In using images of the abundant natural world and its blessings for mankind, American artists were following a tradition millennia old. The most immediate source of such imagery for quilt makers was in the lively Indian painted cottons that were wildly fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the European chintz copies of them in the 18th and 19th centuries. From them came the Tree of Life design that was to figure so strongly in decorative art of the time, and is to be seen in its full form on the Trade and Commerce Quilt Top.
(From 'Uncommon Quilts" by Jonathan Holstein, Heritage, Vol. 12, No. 4, Summer 1996)

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From top to bottom:
Picking Flowers, ca. 1845, attributed to Samuel Miller (ca 1807-1853), oil on canvas, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0255.1961.
Eliza Smith, ca. 1836, unidentified artist, oil on canvas , gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0034.1961.
Framed Center with Applique Quilt (detail), ca. 1860, unidentified artist, cotton, gift of Mary Wise, N0155.1957.
Trade and Commerce Quilt Top, ca. 1835, Hannah Stockton Stiles (1800-?), cotton, glazed chintz. gift of Hannah Lee Stokes, N0222.1956.

1 comment:

Aimee Dars said...

So interesting! I have an old postcard of "Picking Flowers" and the artist is listed as unknown. It's so gratifying to see folk art taken seriously!

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