Thursday, October 27, 2011

That's SOME quilt!

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Quilt lovers have been flocking to our new Unfolding Stories: Culture and Tradition in American Quilts exhibition here at Fenimore. In addition to the raves about the expertise of the piecing, stitching or the creativity of our quilts many folks are dazzled by the sheer size of our “Star of Bethlehem” quilt. It was most likely created by either Providence or Henrietta Hildebrand Owens sometime around 1830. At a whopping 115” x 123” it is one big quilt.

As you can imagine, all of us –docents, visitors and staff– have spent some time trying to figure out why this terrific quilt is so darn big! Time to consult an expert! Jacquie Atkins, our guest curator, gave this response to my queries: “Quilts were functional objects in the 1820s, and although this may have been admired and used only for "best," it would not have been anywhere but on a bed…Keep in mind that many beds were higher in those days … so if the bed were five feet or so wide, that would have meant roughly a 2 1/2 foot drop on each side. Add a thick mattress (10-12" in well-off families) to an 18" high bed, and this does not seem so large after all.”

We can also say that in addition to its size, the quilt is a radiant example of the quilter’s skill and most likely created in a household that could afford the amount and expense of the fine fabrics.

Will the conversation and questions end there? We are wondering if this quilt was used to tuck multiple siblings into one bed on Christmas Eve. Time for a little more research…

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