Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Old Favorite

There's a reason why the "New York Beauty" quilt pattern has experienced such a huge revival in recent years. It was worth reviving! Just as applique lovers coo over Baltimore Album quilts, avid lovers of American pieced quilts get weak in the knees over a great antique New York Beauty. 

You can correctly call the antique examples by the name Rocky Mountain Road or Crown of Thorns, but the name isn't usually what triggers a reaction. It's the visuals. 

This quilt is from Kentucky, where many of the finest, earliest examples were made. It's a masterpiece - the kind of quilt that stops people in their tracks, especially in the age of machine quilting. Dense, decorative hand quilting is awe-inspiring. The quilt is dated from around 1875, and is included in Kentucky Quilts: 1800-1900, the catalog of the Kentucky Quilt Project. 

Good, basic design is what feeds the allure of the New York Beauty. The geometry refers to Victorian architectural detail, westward migration, the advent of the machine age, and in some examples, Native American design. The high level of craft suggests affluence and refinement, and the shapes act as early graphic designs.

The early name Rocky Mountain Road is also a clear reference to the westward migration. Covered wagons faced many rocky mountain roads - especially in the Rocky Mountains - during the journey west. In this quilt, cornerstones look like wagon wheels or suns, as do the blocked quarter circles. The sashing is reminiscent of railroad tracks, and the colors couldn't be more American. 

Who knew a rarely used bed covering could be such an apt expression of Post-Civil War American culture?

For most of the last two decades, this exceptional quilt was part of Susie Tompkins' Esprit Collection. Today, this amazing quilt is the newest addition to my collection. It will be included in my show next year at the Benton County Historical Museum in Philomath, Oregon. The exhibition will show an old favorite in a whole new light.


  1. The quilting on this one is wonderful. I love the way she used those feathers. Knowing how much work went into that stitching I wonder what was the driving force behind this quilter?
    I wonder if her acquaintances appreciated what she had done or wether her reward was running her hand over that wonderful texture knowing that she had made something priceless - beyond her means other than making it herself?

  2. It is a fantastic quilt, and a "best" quilt. There are hearts in the centers of the wagon wheel / sun cornerstones. To me, and to others who have written about this quilt, the presence of the hearts suggests love. So, possibly a dowry chest or wedding quilt. Conjecture aside, and whatever the purpose, the quilt is a powerful tribute to both the maker and the recipients.

  3. Old Kentucky quilts are among the best ever. They have the refinement of Virginia quilts in their quilting and yet show great verve and individuality in their colors and pattern choices. And the of course there's those wild Scots-Irish "up in the hills" and they laid their hand to any sort of fabric with enthusiasm. The close-up--the stunning pattern with the sophisticated quilting--made me *sigh*.

  4. Now whenever I see a NYB quilt I think of you! Two members of my guild were working on some today.

    Your Kentucky quilt is truly exceptional...the pieced cornerstones are inspiring.