Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beauty Secrets: Transitional Quilt

In the last two years I've purchased 26 New York Beauty quilts and tops, more than half of my "Beauty Secrets" collection. Just before that flurry of activity, I bought this 1950s blue and white quilt, made by Gertrude Barr of Nichols Hills, Oklahoma. It's an intriguing quilt, for more than one reason.

The quilt is the product of a published pattern, but I'm still seeking the source. By the time it was made, published patterns had become thoroughly homogenized in terms of aesthetics. Looking at this quilt, it is clearly well-planned and perfectly symmetrical. There are no extra rows of blocks or half-blocks, and there isn't a point out of place.

New York Beauty (detail), c. 1980, North Carolina
It's somewhere in between the Mountain Mist quilt from the 1930s and the published patterns of the 80s. Similar to the teal, red and white quilt from North Carolina made in the 1980s, the one I blogged about on August 9th, the quilt is representative of the calm before the storm - or more appropriately stated, the calm before Karen Stone! After the wave of very mechanical, homogeneous looking quilts, Stone and other artists gave the New York Beauty a major makeover in the 90s. Now, we're in a whole new place.

A Karen Stone inspired Lady Liberty Quilt by Marita Wallace.
Knowing what has transpired in the last 15 or 20 years, it's enlightening to look at the quilts on the bubble. Gertrude Barr's quilt is on the bubble. It represents rigid classicism before a period of aesthetic innovation, commercialism before a grass-roots, creative evolution. It's truly a transitional quilt.

This quilt is currently on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon, as part of "Beauty Secrets: 150 Years of History in One Quilt Pattern" through October 1st. The exhibit is part of Quilt County, a biennial, countywide celebration of quilts. An 80-page, full-color printed catalog is available in limited numbers at the museum, and online through Blurb. To preview or purchase the catalog, click here.


  1. The catalog was waiting for me when I got back from vacation this week. It looks to find a few minutes with a cup of tea to read through it. (my bad, I look at all the photos first!) Congratulations on a wonderful book!

  2. I have always loved the historical aspects of quilt designs. You make an interesting point about the evolution of block design. When designs start out and are passed "hand to hand" the resulting quilts have common elements but are very loose in overall design. Once patterned, the designs spread farther afield but the resulting quilts are more formal and take on a cloned look (which is why a lot of people say they don't like to work from patterns). Then someone "rediscovers" an old design and pushes the envelope to transform it into something "new".

    After your exhibit, it will be interesting to see if people seek to create another new look for the New York Beauty the way that people are now revisting red & white quilt designs after the Rose Collection exhibit.

  3. I'm sure other patterns have experienced a similar evolution, but the New York Beauty is particularly interesting right now because of the work of artists like Karen Stone and the recent popularity of the new pattern variations. The next wave is already here. There are quilts that combine elements of the old and new, including one in Paducah this year:

    I found a similar one made by a quiltmaker in Australia. Both of these quilts seem to combine classic structure with the mix of modern fabrics a la Stone.

  4. I've got to get to Philomath! Can't wait to see these in person. Thanks for the great info, too.

  5. I surfed around and saw this post today. (yes, long after you posted it.) I love the photos! I want to make a New York Beauty someday.

    Here are some quilt images I am sharing this week: