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Who Was Anna Tuels? Quilt Stories, 1750-1900

August 30, 2008 - January 25, 2009

 

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition Who Was Anna Tuels? Quilt Stories, 1750-1900, which celebrates the history of quilting from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America. Drawing from its own excellent collection, most of which has not been on view for twenty years, this exhibition complements the museum's unique fall/winter exhibition showcasing the early American Arts and Crafts period.

Quilting, traditionally a primarily female craft, has much to tell us about the lives of women in our past. The Atheneum's exhibition focuses on quilts with a history of ownership, allowing us to explore how these quilts inform us about the women who made them, and vice versa. Where did they get their fabrics? How did they choose those particular designs? For what occasion was the quilt made?

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the famed "Anna Tuels" quilt, believed to be the earliest dated American pieced quilt in existence. Made for Anna in 1785 by her mother, the value of this "bedquilt" rests not simply in its beautiful piecework or close stitching. This quilt is an important historical document; recording for all future generations the tradition of providing a daughter with the items she would require to "go to housekeeping." A special bed cover was often an important part of a young woman's dowry. Her maiden name was traditionally stitched onto linens or carved into dower chests -- or, as in this case, appliquéd onto the bedquilt -- insistently marking those items as her property at a time when, legally, married women had no right to own property.

Anna Tuel's quilt is also a wonderful record of eighteenth-century worsted fabrics imported from England -- with exotic names such as "calamanco," "duroy," and "tapizadoe," as well as the still-familiar "damask." Of necessity, and by design, fabrics are central to the stories told by quilts and their creators. At least two of the other quilts on display in this exhibition were made specifically to show off fabrics the makers had collected. Pennsylvanian Anna Scull (1796-1890) collected bits of the dresses of her ancestors and of famous women of her day (including Martha Washington) to stitch into her hexagon mosaic quilt. Sisters Maria and Flora Barrett of Massachusetts simply collected an amazing thirty-year-range of fabrics. No two pieces in the star designs of their quilt were repeated.

Creating a dazzling quilt was a point of great pride for many women. Miss Submit Gay (1796-1880) of Simsbury, CT won a silver medal from the Hartford County Agricultural Society in 1842 for her "Star of Bethlehem" calico quilt. The labor required to create an elegant red and white feathered star quilt was well remembered by the family of its maker, Miss Ann Jennet Mitchell (1815-1904) of South Britain, Connecticut: "It took nearly a year to quilt it."

The quilts of Who Was Anna Tuels? are organized by age and materials; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wool and cotton quilts contrast with silk quilts from the second half of the nineteenth-century, which are particularly spectacular visually. As citizens of a more modern age, we can learn much about earlier times and people from the materials and techniques. Jane Naomi Strong Welles' quilt and her workbasket with silk patches and tin template illustrate the process of planning and creating a quilt. The 1856 discovery of the first synthetic dye take on new meaning when seen first-hand through comparison of the earlier quilts with the more recent examples showing an altered and expanded color range and exciting jewel-tone fabrics.

Each quilt tells a story. The Signora May crazy quilt is a poignant remembrance of her three deceased children; whose names are life dates are embroidered within the randomly shaped and elegantly embellished patches. Regardless of when they were created, these extraordinary quilts share stories of celebration, sorrow, remembrance, and hope remain that are still capable of touching our hearts today.

 

(above: Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Hourglass," 1785, New England, Various worsteds, silk, and printed cottons, with a wool backing and wool batting. Gift of William L. Warren in memory of Florence Paull Berger, 1967.75)

 

Introductory wall text

Who was Anna Tuels? Quilt Stories, 1750-1900
 
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and guest curator Lynne Z. Bassett thank the following organizations and institutions for their assistance and support for this exhibition:
 
J. Namnoun Oriental Rug Gallery
 
The Costume & Textile Society of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
 
Additional support provided by donors to the Greater Hartford Arts Council's United Arts Campaign, the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and the MetLife Foundation.
 
When the Bicentennial of 1976 renewed interest in America's historic crafts, quilts gained recognition as significant objects of women's needle art, often manifesting bold and graphic visual appeal. In this regard, the quilts in this exhibition speak for themselves. But there is much more to explore beyond their aesthetic beauty. These quilts tell us about the women who made them. As we learn about where they got their fabrics, how they chose particular designs, and for what occasions they made their quilts, we uncover some of the stories they tell.
 

Object labels in the galleries for the exhibition

Quilted Petticoat, c. 1740-60
Probably New England
Silk, with glazed worsted backing and wool batting
Replaced waistband
Museum purchase, 1968.74
 
Quilted Petticoat, c. 1750-75
Marblehead, Massachusetts
Silk, with glazed worsted backing and wool batting
Replaced waistband
The Florence Paull Berger Fund, 1979.167
 
Quilted Petticoat, c. 1770-1800
New England
Glazed worsted, with wool backing and wool batting
Original waistband removed
Lent by Miss Isabel Rogers, T.L.1917.141
 
Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Hourglass," 1785
New England
Various worsteds, silk, and printed cottons, with a wool backing and wool batting
Gift of William L. Warren in memory of Florence Paull Berger, 1967.75
 
Photographic Reproduction of Details in the Anna Tuels Quilt Worsted Fabrics
 
Photographic Reproduction from a Norwich Worsted Pattern Book
Norwich, England, 1794­97
"Fine Calamancoes"
Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera
Photographic Reproduction from a Norwich Worsted Pattern Book
Norwich, England, 1785­1831
"Fleurets Fins"
Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera
 
Photographic Reproduction of Detail in Wool Blanketing on back of the Anna Tuels Quilt
 
Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Hexagon Mosaic," 1794
Made by Sarah Ewalt Spencer (1766-1842) of Bedford, Pennsylvania
Cotton
Gift of Dr. Edward Scull, 1982.165
 
Tags Indicating Origin of Quilt Squares
Ink on paper
Formerly attached to:
Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Hexagon Mosaic," 1794
Made by Sarah Ewalt Spencer (1766-1842) of Bedford, Pennsylvania
Cotton
Gift of Dr. Edward Scull, 1982.165
 
Whole-cloth Chintz Quilt, c. 1840
Made by Anna Bonnet Spencer Scull (1796-1890) of Pennsylvania
Cotton
Gift of Dr. Edward Scull, 1982.164
 
Pieced Quilt, "Star of Bethlehem," 1842
Made by Submit Gay (1796-1880) of Simsbury, Connecticut
Cotton
Gift of Miss Fanny Gay Darrow, 1926.2904
 
Pieced Quilt, "Broken Star," c. 1885-90
Made by Flora W. Barrett (b. 1853) and Maria L. Barrett (b. 1843) of Boston, Massachusetts
Cotton and wool
Gift of Mrs. Henri L. Berger, 1954.72
 
Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Tumbling Blocks," c. 1860­70
Made by Jane Naomi Strong Welles (1814-1885) of Hartford, Connecticut
Silk
Gift of Miss Mary Todd, 1977.44a
 
Sewing Basket, c. 1860-70
Belonged to Jane Naomi Strong Welles (1814-1885) of Hartford, Connecticut
Wood splint with silk patches and tin template
Gift of Miss Mary Todd, 1977.44b
 
Pieced Silk Quilt, "Sunburst," c. 1860-75
Attributed to Jane Jeanette Allen Hamersley of Hartford, Connecticut
Silk
Gift of Jane Hamersley Wright, 1991.45
 
Crazy Quilt, 1888
Made by Signora Ann Paine May (1851-1924) of Hartford, Connecticut, 1884-88
Bequest of Mrs. Signora A. May, 1924.278
 
Crazy Quilt, 1888
Made by Jane H. Boynton (b. 1839) of Manchester, Connecticut
Silk
Gift of Fred O. Boynton, 1923.217



(above: Paper Template-pieced Quilt, "Tumbling Blocks," c. 1860-70, Made by Jane Naomi Strong Welles (1814-1885) of Hartford, Connecticut, Silk. Gift of Miss Mary Todd, 1977.44a)

 

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