Friday, March 25, 2011

When Everything is "Right" About a Quilt

Those who watch Antiques Roadshow may be familiar with an expression the appraisers sometimes use to acknowledge the authenticity of an object. "Everything is right," they say, referring to the characteristics a buyer wants to see in the object. A recent discussion among the American Quilt Study Group's Yahoo list danced around this expression. The group was discussing a quilt which had been erroneously identified as something it clearly was not.

When comparing the visual characteristics to the attribution, everything was not "right" about the quilt. One of the most intriguing labels was "Amish". Not accounting for the present day cottage industries and other exceptions to the rule, what images come to mind when we think about Amish quilts? When is everything right? A good example is this Tumbling Blocks trundle quilt (pictured), once part of the Esprit Collection. The quilt was made in the 1940's by Lidian Hostetler of Wayne County, Ohio. It is geometric. It is pieced, and includes dark, rich, solid colored fabric. It comes from an identified maker and was made in an Amish region. All signs point in the right direction.

This week, after announcing the arrival of an early 1800's quilt from Rhode Island, several people asked me how I knew what I was looking at. Trading through eBay can be tricky, especially if you lack the necessary interpretive skills. But all signs pointed in the right direction, even though there are relatively few comparable examples. A description of a quilt either corroborates its origins or refutes them, and when considering quilts made in the early 1800's, everything was right about the glazed wool, large scale, T-shape for four-post bed, pieced pattern, quilting design, and signs of age.

Quilt study is a window to greater understanding about possible origins of any given piece. Part of the learning process is the broad understanding that certain characteristics and qualities are associated with specific movements, time periods, and regions. Generalizations, yes - with nuances that only solid research can discern - but rightly so. It's not particularly scholarly to say pastel colored quilts were prevalent in the Depression, or that red and green on white quilts were made around the time of the Civil War. However, in many cases it would be correct.

It all boils down to some good advice my mother gave me about how to buy antiques when I first started collecting. "Know what you're looking at," she said.

Her advice has served me well.

1 comment:

  1. Know what you're looking at..... interesting....and so right on..... I know a bunch about Fiestaware and could often tell from pictures that I was not looking at said description, bla bla bla. And was willing to just walk away from listings, etc. Where the problem comes is when I don't know exactly what I am looking at..... and get inscure..... for instance when picking faberic for a "civil war" quilt.... don't know the real colors of the time and with so much repo fabric available just go with trusted names... safe so far...... then there will be a piece in the stash without the edge and I am not sure sure if I should include or if it is "not right" and will look like a sore thumb to someone who knows "what they are looking at".