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Quilting the Twentieth Century
From the first decade of the twentieth century through the 1930s, American popular culture paid greater attention to quilts. Newly published books contributed to the trend. Several addressed historical aspects of American quilts while fictional accounts gave quilts and quilt making sentimental appeal. The latter included Eliza Calvert Hall's best seller Aunt Jane of Kentucky published in 1907. Aunt Jane, a folksy caricature, was a dedicated quilter. (Eliza Calvert Hall was the pen name of Eliza Obenchain who lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky.)

More broadly, a growing interest in Colonial American antiques, architecture, and interiors added to the romance of the American quilt. In decades marked by rapid urbanization, suburbanization, industrialization, and the rise of the mass market, the Colonial Revival offered a symbolic escape to a simpler past.

In terms of twentieth-century quilts, the Bingham-Miller Collection contains an exceptional group of pictorial examples. Some use the familiar approach of repeated images confined within a grid. Others treat the quilt's rectangular format as a picture plane, not unlike a painter's canvas or a piece of drawing paper. The exhibition's chronology ends with a work made in 1997 that, though made in three layers like a quilt, looks nothing like a traditional quilt. Since the 1960s, many artists have used traditional "craft" materials like textiles to explore broader intellectual and visual issues, even as they adopt and modify traditional practices.
L2010.42.8
L2010.42.8
Cactus Basket, about 1900
Probably Ohio
Cactus Basket, about 1900
Cottons
Probably Ohio
35 x 34 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.8

Like so many quit patterns, Cactus Basket (a pattern name that dates to at least the late nineteenth or early twentieth century) reduces realistic subjects to geometric abstractions. Layers of geometric structure--from the grid that divides the surface to the forms that fill the grid--shaped the design and execution of many American quilts. The geometry of quilts provided a set of rules, whether spoken or unspoken, that allowed for innovation while maintaining a shared set of expectations.
Cactus Basket, about 1900
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.8
L2010.42.46
L2010.42.46
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Lexington, Kentucky
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Cottons, wools and silks
Lexington, Kentucky
75-1/2 x 74 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.46

This quilt's history indicates that it was made by Flossie (Florence) McClure and her mother, Sallie, between 1910 and 1915. They chose one of the many variations of the Log Cabin pattern. Log Cabin quilts consist of square blocks, each pieced together from rectilinear strips of fabric. Manipulating the strips' arrangement, their colors, their shades, or some combination of the three produces different optical effects. The exact origins of the Log Cabin concept remain uncertain. The United States? Britain? Whatever the source, Log Cabin patterns became popular in the United States during the late nineteenth century and remain popular among quilters still today.
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Lexington, Kentucky
L2010.42.46
L2010.42.11
L2010.42.11
Delectable Mountains, about 1920
Kentucky
Delectable Mountains, about 1920
Cottons
Kentucky
81 x 69 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.11


Rather than dividing the quilt's surface into a flat-looking grid, patterns like Delectable Mountains use concentric rectangles to create three dimensional effects. The pattern's name comes from the English author John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, which was first published in 1678. Bunyan's religious allegory depicts the pilgrimage towards salvation. His "delectable mountains" offer refuge and refreshment to the pilgrims.
Delectable Mountains, about 1920
Kentucky
L2010.42.11
L2010.42.30
L2010.42.30
House or Schoolhouse, about 1920
Probably Kentucky
House or Schoolhouse, about 1920
Cottons
Probably Kentucky
78 x 71 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.30

The House or Schoolhouse pattern, popular beginning in the later nineteenth century, typically consisted of a grid of smaller, identical houses rather than the large, central image seen here. The quilt's subject evokes idealized memories: the old home place, school days. Quilts, from their design to their production to their veneration by later generations, are freighted with memories, both real and ideal.
House or Schoolhouse, about 1920
Probably Kentucky
L2010.42.30
L2010.42.21
L2010.42.21
Cats and Pumpkins, about 1930
Probably Eastern Pennsylvania
Cats and Pumpkins, about 1930
Cottons
Probably Eastern Pennsylvania
78 x 78 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.21

Like many twentieth-century pictorial quilts, this example possesses a playful sense of humor and was clearly made for seasonal decoration.
Cats and Pumpkins, about 1930
Probably Eastern Pennsylvania
L2010.42.21
L2010.42.20
L2010.42.20
Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project
Horse, about 1939
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project
Horse, about 1939
Cottons
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
59 x 41 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.20

This appliquéd coverlet was one of several patterns produced during the Great Depression by Milwaukee's WPA Handicraft Project. The design, known as Horse, was produced in quantity and originally cost $1.25.

During the Depression, the Federal Works Progress Administration (known after 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) developed many programs aimed at providing employment. The WPA Handicraft Project in Milwaukee employed unskilled women (and some men) to make everything from toys to woven fabrics to appliquéd quilts and coverlets. The products were sold across the country to federal, state, and local government offices, hospitals, orphanages, and other agencies. The workforce in the Milwaukee project was racially integrated, perhaps the only WPA program in the country so organized.
Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project
Horse, about 1939
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
L2010.42.20
L2010.42.16
L2010.42.16
New York Beauty, about 1940
Probably Louisville, Kentucky
New York Beauty, about 1940
Cottons
Probably Louisville, Kentucky
92 x 80 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.16

Known today as New York Beauty, this pattern went by the name Crown of Thorns (and others) during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Versions from the mid-nineteenth century often used a white ground. The anonymous maker of this example, however, embraced a bold color combination, one that echoes the popular tastes of the 1930s and early 1940s.
New York Beauty, about 1940
Probably Louisville, Kentucky
L2010.42.16
L2010.42.19
L2010.42.19
Chieftain, about 1940
Probably Kentucky
Chieftain, about 1940
Cottons
Probably Kentucky
78 x 82 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.19

As more and more tourists visited the American Southwest by rail, Native American arts from the region began to influence popular culture--quilts included. This quilt's aptly named Chieftain pattern, published in newspapers in the 1930s, combines motifs and colors reminiscent of Native American blankets from the Southwest even though it was probably made in Kentucky.
Chieftain, about 1940
Probably Kentucky
L2010.42.19
L2010.42.25
L2010.42.25
House and Flower Garden, about 1940
Ohio or Indiana
House and Flower Garden, about 1940
Cottons
Ohio or Indiana
90 x 76 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.25

Grandmother's Flower Garden, a floral pattern pieced from hexagons, became one of the most popular quilt patterns of the 1920s and 1930s. The pattern name reflects the sentimentality so often associated with quilts during the period. Variations of the pattern were widely published and one could even buy pre-cut kits. This quilt's maker used the hexagons of Grandmother's Flower Garden to create flowers as well as an elaborate and highly original pictorial composition; she literally shows us a house and its flower garden.
House and Flower Garden, about 1940
Ohio or Indiana
L2010.42.25
L2010.42.4
L2010.42.4
Lila A. Kelley and Lizzie Shavers
(American, dates unknown)
Garland High School Bears, 1948-1949
Garland, Texas
Lila A. Kelley and Lizzie Shavers
(American, dates unknown)
Garland High School Bears, 1948-1949
Cottons
Garland, Texas
77 x 63 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.4

While quilts often commemorate personal and family milestones, they sometimes immortalize public events. According to oral history, this quilt was made to commemorate the success of a high school basketball team from Garland High School. Garland, a segregated, African-American school that operated from 1875 until desegregation in 1955, was located in Bowie County in northeastern Texas.

The quilt includes the embroidered names of school staff members and officials. It also features the school's mascot, a bear, atop a map of Bowie County. Garland High School was located near Dekalb, one of the towns shown on the map. Another locale, inscribed as the "Defense area", refers to the Red River Army Depot.
Lila A. Kelley and Lizzie Shavers
(American, dates unknown)
Garland High School Bears, 1948-1949
Garland, Texas
L2010.42.4
L2010.42.49
L2010.42.49
Beatrice Pettway
(American, 1928-1988)
Strip Quilt, about 1975
Gee's Bend, Alabama
Beatrice Pettway
(American, 1928-1988)
Strip Quilt, about 1975
Cotton denim, corduroy
Gee's Bend, Alabama
77x 67 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.49

In the isolated, rural community of Gee's Bend, Alabama, quilt making runs through the community's history, from the nineteenth century through the present. Like many Gee's Bend quilts, this example combines practicality and sentiment. It uses recycled fabrics, a useful practice long associated with quilts, particularly those from rural areas. Some of the fabrics come from old work clothes and, as such, inject memory into the quilt: memories of those who wore them and the work that shaped their lives. The other face of the quilt was fashioned from strips of colorful corduroy.
Beatrice Pettway
(American, 1928-1988)
Strip Quilt, about 1975
Gee's Bend, Alabama
L2010.42.49
L2010.42.42
L2010.42.42
Adrienne Yorinks
(American, born 1956)
Sliced Pineapple, 1997
Adrienne Yorinks
(American, born 1956)
Sliced Pineapple, 1997
Cottons, silks, photographic transfers
84 x 56 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.42

Yorinks constructed her work from three layers and made use of pieced fabrics, both features found in traditional quilts. Yet she did not bind herself to the visual norms of traditional quilt patterns. Rather, she turned tradition on its head, using a heroically oversized pineapple to make humorous reference to the geometric Pineapple variation of the traditional Log Cabin pattern.
Adrienne Yorinks
(American, born 1956)
Sliced Pineapple, 1997
L2010.42.42

 
 
 


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