Maryland Historical Society

Baltimore, MD



The Baltimore Album Quilt Tradition

June 16 - September 9, 2001


Colorful, exquisite, inventive, and rarely seen by the public, the Maryland Historical Society's collection of Baltimore album quilts is the world's largest collection of this unique and expertly crafted textile art. A major new exhibition, The Baltimore Album Quilt Tradition, featuring over 40 quilts, will be held at the Maryland Historical Society from June 16 through September 9, 2001.

In her concluding paragraph to the exhibition catalogue for The Baltimore Album Quilt Tradition, Nancy E. Davis, PhD, Deputy Director of Collections at the Maryland Historical Society, states:

The Baltimore album quilt tradition grew from an admiration of tradition itself. A desire for gentility and respect for one's regional heritage prompted the creation of an elaborate textile art. Album quilters enlarged upon the vocabulary of English bedcovers and enriched the forms with American images and motifs. They created a new form of the Baltimore album quilt, in part, to emulate the old. Unlike women who quilted before and after them, these quilters worked and designed with a somewhat feverish purpose for ten years - to prove their worth as genteel and gracious givers, as partakers of "refined" American life, as appreciators of a newly invested heritage, and perhaps unconsciously, to find stability in a rapidly changing world.

Below are images of four of the featured quilts and excerpts from the exhibition catalogue describing each of those quilts.

(left: Baltimore Album Quilt, c. 1845, cataloge number 14, maker unknown, Harford County, Maryland, plain and printed cotton, quilted in parallel lines and leaf and oval patterns, 195 x 196 cm, Maryland Historical Society, 1968.109.1, Gift of Mrs. Mabel Kelbaugh) The whimsical eagle and ship squares near the center of the piece assist in the interpretation of this quilt, According to family history, Benjamin Almoney received this quilt on his twenty~first birthday in 1845, to celebrate his coming of age, If so, the boldly designed eagle with a quiver of arrows in one talon, and an olive branch in the other, may have been intended to encourage Benjamin's patriotism.

(left: Baltimore Album Quilt, 1845-1848, cataloge number 15, signed by Mary Celia Hiss Crowl, Elizabeth Crowl, Martha Crowl, Susannah Crowl, Mary Celia Crowl, and cousins unspecified, Baltimore County, Maryland, plain and printed cottons, wool embroidery, inking, quilted in diamonds and outlines, 270 x 269 cm, Maryland Historical Society, 1993.1, Gift of Philip W. Chase, Jr.) An unusual heavy red-arrow swag border encloses intricate "cut paperwork" squares in this quilt. The squares are all abstract or floral, with the exception of two. The center block illustrates a ship in great detail. At least five figures are delineated in ink on the ship's deck. Though not as carefully drawn, they are similar to the inked figures in the vessel of Hezekiah Best's quilt (cat. no. 29) owned by the Lovely Lane Museum. Unlike the Best ship square, a finely executed wreath in the Mary Simon style encircles this vessel.

(left: Baltimore Album Quilt, c. 1848, cataloge number 22, Maker(s) unknown, Baltimore, Maryland, plain and printed cottons, chintz, velvet; cotton, silk and wool embroidery, quilted in diamonds and embroidered, 282 x 275 cm, Maryland Historical Society, 1970.19.1, Gift of Mrs. C. Creston Cathcart) Diamond-patterned sashing between each block and the sawtooth border makes this predominately red-and-green quilt vibrate. Close examination reveals that the order of the squares was carefully conceived. Four flower baskets surround a well-executed center block with ruched and padded flowcrs, possibly created by an anonymous quilter now called "Designer II". Rose wreaths form two diagonals of the center square, while a variant of the Whig Rose pattern forms the opposite two. Nearly matching flower-and-stem blocks border the rose wreaths.

(left: Baltimore Album Quilt, c. 1850, cataloge number 28, possibly made by Mrs. Josiah Goodman, Baltimore, Maryland, plain and printed cottons, wood tweeds, velvet, wool and silk embroidery, quilted in diamonds, 232 x 233 cm, Maryland Historical Society, 1953.36.1, Gift of Mrs, Milford Nathan) The realism and bold colors of this quilt place it in a separate category from other, more typical, Baltimore album quilts of a more fanciful character. Jennifer Goldsborough defines this as the work of the anonymous "Designer III." This person's style might be defined as heavier, with thicker lines effected by forms outlined in embroidery overcasting, and unusual and utilitarian fabrics such as wool tweeds.

Text and images courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Read more about the Maryland Historical Society in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.