Saturday, March 21, 2020

Crossroads revisited

In 2016 I co-authored an article for Blanket Statements, the newsletter of the American Quilt Study Group with Marian Ann Montgomery, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University. Today I was rereading the article after posting it to Barbara Brackman's QuiltHistorySouth Facebook group, and discovered errors in the descriptions of the block structures of two quilts. 

The original (PDF) can be found on the web site, click here. Here is the corrected and revised article.

Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall
By Marian Ann J. Montgomery, Ph.D., and Bill Volckening
The uncanny similarities between two quilts in the collection at the Museum of Texas Tech University and a quilt appearing in Quilters Newsletter led to collaborative research, with a focus on dating quilts using published pattern sources and physical attributes.

When the December/ January 2016 issue of Quilters Newsletter was released, a quilt on page 17 caught the attention of Marian Ann Montgomery, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University. Montgomery was in the midst of planning an exhibition and catalogue, and two of the Museum’s quilts, one in the exhibit and another recent acquisition, were remarkably similar to the one in the magazine. 

Montgomery came across one of the quilts during an inventory in 2014. It is red, white and light blue, 73 inches by 84.25 inches, and it has a modern looking design with square blocks forming a secondary circular design with a blue square cornerstone in the center of each circle. There are 16 blocks and four half blocks along the upper edge. Each block is approximately 16 and 1/2 inches by 16 and 1/6 inches. (See Figure 1)

In 2015, Linda Fisher from Lubbock, Texas, donated an almost identical quilt. It is also red and white with a light blue that is a deeper hue than the first quilt, and red circles rather than blue squares at the cornerstone point of each block. It is 79 inches wide and 90 inches long with the same number of blocks and half blocks as the first quilt. Each block is approximately 17 inches square. (See Figure 2)

Both quilts came with only bits of information. The first quilt was donated to the museum by the grandson of the maker. The donor had passed away; there were no other descendants to contact, but his obituary provided the full name of both of his parents. Pat Grappe, a volunteer and trained historian who regularly does research for the Clothing and Textiles Division, found more information about the first quiltmaker, and a family group photo that included her.

Olive Pearl Wigley, the maker of the first quilt, was born on August 3, 1885, in Hunt, Texas. Census records showed her residence as Fannin County, east of Dallas, in 1900. She married Robert Pickney Price on August 8, 1905, in Honey Grove, Texas, which is also in Fannin County. By 1910 she was living in Michell County, Texas, which is west of Abilene and south of Lubbock. She remained in Michell County, likely on a ranch, until she moved into Colorado City, a town in Michell County, sometime in the 1920s. Her husband died on July 12, 1948, and she lived on until May 13, 1974.

The quilt donated by Fisher is actually a time-span quilt, a vintage top finished recently. A friend of Fisher’s purchased the top for 25 dollars at a garage sale in a “large sprawling house between Indiana and University and the Loop and 82nd Street” in Lubbock, Texas, and Fisher quilted it.

Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall is pattern number 2946 in the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman, and is attributed to Clara Stone. The pattern appeared in Practical Needlework: Quilt Patterns, published in 1906 by C.W. Calkins & Company in Boston. The booklet was one of a series containing patterns originally designed by Clara Stone for periodicals published by Vickery and Hill Company in Augusta, Maine.

Based on the life dates of the maker of the first quilt and when the pattern was published, a circa date of 1915 seemed reasonable for both of the quilts in the Museum of Texas Tech collection. The quilt in Quilters Newsletter had a much earlier date—1870. At first, it seemed improbable since 1870 was much earlier than the Clara Stone pattern. The red, white, and green quilt was part of The Volckening Collection of Portland, Oregon. (See Figure 4)

“The quilt came from a seller in Texas,” said Volckening, who initially thought the quilt was made even earlier based on its physical attributes. “I have seen a couple examples from Tennessee, and I thought it was possible the quilt could’ve been made in Tennessee originally and migrated to Texas, but it was found in Texas. The colors are over-dyed green (faded) and worn Turkey red. The name Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall is the earliest published name I could find for it.”

Dimensions are 76 inches by 94 inches, and each of the 20 blocks was 18 inches square. The thin, cotton quilt is densely quilted, chaff visible in the batting, with a fine, quarter-inch applied white binding matching all the other white fabric. The quilt has a patina. Fabrics show signs of fading, deterioration and yellowing. The methods of construction and signs of age offer more information worth considering about the quilt. Was it plausible to think it predated the earliest published patterns by more than a quarter century?

Two related examples from Tennessee, found by Volckening on the Quilt Index, had circa dates between 1880 and 1890. Callie Burnett and Laura White of Pelham, Grundy County, Tennessee, made one quilt with solid red, white and blue fabrics. The dimensions were 62.5 inches by 80 inches, and family date was 1883. The second quilt was red, white and green, made in Winchester, Tennessee, around 1890. No maker’s name or life dates were available, but the great aunt of the owner made it. The quilt was 68.5 inches by 92 inches. 

Merikay Waldvogel, co-author of The Quilts of Tennessee: Images of Domestic Life Prior to 1930, commented on the difficulty dating quilts with all solid colors. Waldvogel said the fabrics in Volckening’s quilt “seemed to be the 1850s green—that lemony shade.” Volckening describes the Turkey red as having a cool tone and shows color loss and deterioration consistent with fabrics of the middle nineteenth century.

“Determining age is a matter of finding enough reliable clues in the quilt to build a case for a date,” said Barbara Brackman in her seminal book Clues in the Calico, A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts. Quilts served as inspiration for pattern designers of early twentieth century, and some designs existed for decades before they were published. It is not unheard of to find quilts that predate the earliest published patterns. Volckening’s New York Beauty Collection includes 70 quilts, 24 of which were made before the earliest published pattern representing the motif.

Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall was a much less common pattern than New York Beauty, and there were far fewer examples to study. Kansas City Star published the same pattern as Cross Roads in 1931 and Wagon Wheels in 1941; and Capper’s Weekly also published a Cross Roads pattern, but very few quilts surfaced with the design. One sold at auction by Blanchard’s Auction Service in Potsdam, New York, in 2012 and Jan Magee recently found one in an antiques mall.

The research process for these quilts shed light on the importance of knowing when a pattern was first published, who made the quilt, the maker’s life dates, and how the physical characteristics aligned with the pattern publication information. The estimated dates for the two quilts in the Museum of Texas Tech University were close to the earliest publication date of the pattern, but the date for the quilt from the Volckening Collection was supported more by the clues in the cloth. 

In the end, all the dates checked out, and Montgomery successfully launched her exhibition and published the catalogue. Volckening soon will publish his second book, Modern Roots: Today’s Quilts from Yesterday’s Inspiration, and it will include a pattern and a twenty-first century rendition of the design. Perhaps we will see more of these quilts in the future. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

what to do?

maybe I will write another book
I'm not really bored, but a new project could be fun right now. Maybe I will write another book.

my first book
My first book is all about a complex American patchwork design known as "New York Beauty" (Quiltmania/France 2015). I wrote the book and did all the photography in the summer of 2014. It was a big project, but it only took me two months to complete. The book summarized 25 years of collecting the spiky-curvy design and its variants, so that's how long the project really took.

my second book
My second book, "Modern Roots" (C&T/Stash 2016) focuses on modernism in American patchwork. It's primarily a project book and includes inspiration quilts from my collection made between 1840 and 1970. Although I have never used a pattern to make a quilt, the publishers had a whole team working on the patterns and instructions. They did a fabulous job.

our book, my third
The third book, "Inspired Free-Motion Quilting" (C&T/Stash 2018) is co-authored with Mandy Leins, who created stunning free-motion quilting designs inspired by masterpiece quilts made between 1790 and 1870. The quilts represent an elegant period of American quiltmaking, and the book is a masterpiece in its own right, largely due to Mandy's significant contribution.

I would love to publish an "official" book about the quilts of the 1970s
Those are my three official books, but quilts from the collection appear in dozens of other books and I have also self-published several books using Blurb. I did a big 1970s book a few years ago. It needs updating. I want to do a big book of the whole collection. It's hard to know where to begin. I suppose, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "There will be time, there will be time"

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Linda and I were married in 2019
It's a new year and a new decade. I wasn't planning a year-in-review blog post, but when I saw how many friends were saying "good riddance" to 2019, I had to say something. I'm sorry it was such a rough year for so many people. It was the best year of my life. In 2019, Linda and I were married. Need I say more?

"Away Team Is Lit" pulled off a huge upset win
Other things happened. In January, my team "Away Team Is Lit" pulled off a stunning, come-from-behind victory in the first-ever Pinball PDX Royal Rumble at Ground Kontrol. Ian Beatson and I shocked everyone, including ourselves, with a surprise win on Tales From The Crypt to clinch the win. I still can't believe that happened.

Flip City weekly winner's circle in June
There was plenty of pinball. I played a lot of Tuesday night tournaments when Linda was at work, and even made it into the winner's circle photo at High Score in June.

The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims
I did a few things with quilts in 2019, even though I was officially on sabbatical. Early in the year, I appeared on two episodes of The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims. In the summer, I had an exhibit, "Love Blooms: Quilts from the Volckening Collection" at Latimer Quilt & Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon.

"Love Blooms: Quilts from the Volckening Collection"
There were publications, too. In 2019, I made cameo appearances in new books by Victoria Findlay Wolfe and Linda Hahn, and was featured in the Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration: Quilted, and the Peddie School Chronicle.

Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration: Quilted
Peddie School Chronicle
In November, I gave my first lecture in years when I was guest speaker at the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting. It was the first time Linda got to see me give a lecture, and a very nice way to celebrate her recent retirement after almost 24 years working for Sayler's Old Country Kitchen in southeast Portland.

Portland Modern Quilt Guild lecture
Just like any year, there were highs and lows, but the highs far outweighed the lows in 2019. Here's looking forward to another wonderful year in 2020.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

a rare gathering

At Thursday's Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting, photo by Karen Lee
The November meeting of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild last Thursday night was a rare gathering. The guild, one of the largest local modern quilt guilds in the world, has meetings once a month at St. Andrews church on Alberta, and plenty of other activities during the year. As expected, the November meeting was a beehive of activity, but this time, I was the featured speaker.

I shared 27 quilts form the collection

I haven't been on the lecture circuit in years, but thought it would be fun to do another lecture for the guild. Linda and I are both members, but Linda hadn't seen one of my lectures before. The first time I lectured for the guild was several years ago when Christina Cameli was President, and the group met in a small room at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in the Pearl District. I did another lecture on the 1970s quilts a few years later, but that was three or four years ago now.

The appearance was rare, and so were the quilts. I brought 27 quilts representing the history of quiltmaking in the United States from the pre-Revolutionary War period to present day. The oldest piece was a blue resist quilt made with 1760s fabric featuring a whimsical floral design. Only a few museums have examples of this type of quilt, but the one I have is especially remarkable with a binding made from a second blue resist fabric.

During the lecture, I pointed out that my collection has its strengths and weaknesses. There are a lot of mid-19th century quilts, both pieced and appliqued, but not a lot of Victorian Crazy quilts.  That's not to say there aren't any Victorian period quilts. The quilts I have are just a little more unusual than the examples we're used to seeing.

There are also a lot of 1930s and 1970s quilts, but throughout 30 years of collecting, I tried to collect with one eye on the unusual and the other eye on modernism.

These days, I don't do lectures often, but speaking to the group brought back happy memories of sharing quilts with large groups of mostly women; necks craning to get a better look, and audible gasps whenever another spectacular quilt was unfolded.

Thank you to the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, the officers and volunteers, and everyone who attended the meeting. Although it is rare to see me doing a lecture, it was a pleasure to share the quilts, and I hope everyone had as great a time as I did. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

back home again

This 1970s polyester quilt recently returned home after a long road trip. During the last two years, it was traveling with "Modern Quilts: Designs of the New Century" -- an exhibition based on the book of the same title.

The exhibition appeared at The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, April 28 to June 17, 2018; The Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, New York, June 29 to August 19, 2018; and the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington, June 1 to August 25, 2019.

QuiltCon 2015, Austin, TX

The quilt came from an eBay seller in Georgia and was exhibited for the first time at QuiltCon 2015 in Austin, Texas. It was one of two quilts from my collection appearing in QuiltCon Magazine that year.

To welcome the quilt home, we napped under it, and our cat Lulu also got a little quilt time before it went back into storage.

Monday, October 21, 2019

color theory

Color theory is at play in this delicious 1970s Mountain Mist New York Beauty, acquired last week from a seller in Vancouver, Washington. Intensity shift is the name of the color vibration phenomenon, an optical illusion. In a nutshell, when opposite colors of equivalent value are placed side by side, the colors tend to shift as the eye and the brain try to determine which color is lighter and darker. We learned all about it in Two-Dimensional Design class in Freshman Foundation at Rhode Island School of Design. Way back in the day! And I still remember. Gerald Immonen would be so proud.

Two other examples of the Mountain Mist New York Beauty are part of my collection. One is the contemporary 1930s colorway of burnt orange and yellow on white, and the other is the more traditional red and blue on white.

The red, white and blue colorway came from an inspiration quilt, now part of the Mountain Mist collection at the International Quilt Musein in Lincoln, Nebraska. Having lived with the two 1930s examples, which are also part of my first book, it's exciting to see such a dynamic color combination in the 1970s quilt. It's also fun to recall color theory lessons from college.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Mrs. Poyner's Quilt

Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts called "Where have I seen that quilt before?" and the first quilt featured was this gem, made by Mrs. M.E. Poyner of Paducah, Kentucky some time around the Civil War. For more background on this quilt, click here and here.

Today, I learned something I didn't know about the quilt. In the latest edition of QuiltFolk, featuring the great state of Kentucky, Mary Fons wrote an article about beloved friend and mentor, Shelly Zegart. In the feature, there was a photo of "Quilt Day Winners" from the Kentucky Quilt Project, and one of the quilts Mrs. Poyner's quilt!

Mrs. Poyner's quilt (upper right) was one of the Quilt Day Winners!
I was blown away, but at the same time, unsurprised. I'd always wondered which quilts were the quilt day winners in Kentucky. It's like the stuff of legends, even though I could find out easily...if I could just remember to ask Shelly about it.

Some background: In 1980, Shelly Zegart spearheaded the effort to document quilts in Kentucky, which was originally the idea of collector and dealer Bruce Mann. Sadly, Mann was killed in a car accident before he could make the dream come true. So, Shelly made it happen. As it turned out, the landmark survey was the first statewide quilt documentation survey in the United States.

Kentucky ran a series of Quilt Days, inviting everyone to bring their best quilts. As extra incentive, there were cash prizes offered for the best quilt brought in each day by the general public. I can only imagine the look on Shelly's face the day collector Hardin Pettit walked in with Mrs. Poyner's quilt. What a discovery it was!

Today, the quilt is famous as a quilt can be. It's been in a number of publications and traveled far and wide for exhibitions. People in quilt history circles have most likely seen it any number of places. Thank you, Mary Fons and QuiltFolk for revealing something I did not know-- a cool fact about the quilt and its long journey.