Saturday, September 22, 2012

Old Quilts


Two days ago, I received an e-mail from quilt historian and noted author Merikay Waldvogel. She had seen the pictures of the Broderie Perse Chintz Medallion I'd just won in a Skinner auction, and said she thought my quilt was one of the quilts documented by Dr. Dunton in his book, Old Quilts.

"Dr. Who?" I thought to myself, typing the name into the google search box.


Dr. William Rush Dunton (1868-1966) was a psychiatrist and quilt collector from Baltimore, Maryland.  In addition to being a pioneer in the field of occupational therapy, he published books and papers, and curated exhibits of quilts. He used quilts in occupational therapy. In 1946 he self published "Old Quilts" at a personal loss of $3000. However, his efforts served to popularize Baltimore Album Quilts.


Today, Old Quilts is a collector's item and sells for at least $100 per copy. In the book, Dr. Dunton included the quilts of Achsah Goodwin Wilkins. Dr. Dunton documented 11 applique chintz medallions designed by Wilkins, which are pictured in black and white, and notes from an interview with one of Wilkins's granddaughters, Mary Dorsey Davis (1845-1939). 


Achsah Goodwin Wilkins (1775-1854) was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, William Goodwin, who had been involved with the textile trade for many years. She came from an Episcopal family but converted to Methodist and married a Methodist man, William Wilkins, Jr. (1767-1832). The family had a dry goods business, and she had great access to the best imported fabrics, with little worry about cost. 

The quilt owned by the Lassotovitch family, in color
At some point, Achsah Wilkins developed a terrible skin condition, which prevented her from sewing. It kept her awake at night, and she would spend time arranging pieces of chintz fabric as applique designs. Since she couldn't sew, she had African American women, possibly freed slaves living in her home or slaves of family members who lived nearby, who did the sewing.

It appears as though the chintz medallion I bought is one of the Achsah Wilkins counterpanes, and we think it's similar to the one owned by the Lassotovitch family, which appeared in color in Dena Katzenberg's book Baltimore Album Quilts.

We won't know for sure until Tuesday, when the package arrives at my house and I get to see the full quilt for the first time. If you look at the fern sprigs at the intersecting points of the outer swag, the inner swag and border, the center medallion and surrounding fruits and swags, and the Marseilles ground, it looks very promising.



Only three of Achsah Wilkins's applique chintz medallions are in known locations. Several of them are likely to be with descendants, but one is in the Smithsonian, another is in Colonial Williamsburg, and a third is at Andalusia. My quilt could be the fourth one to surface, and that would make it an extremely rare and wonderful thing. When I bid on it, I hoped it was decent enough to show as an example of Broderie Perse. Now, it looks as if I have unwittingly unearthed a national treasure.

A big thank you to Merikay, Barbara Brackman and Ronda McAllen for information about Achsah Wilkins and Dr. Dunton, and Lisa Ruetz for posting book plate photos on Facebook.

23 comments:

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    1. kathleenvictor@msn.comSeptember 23, 2012 at 8:09 AM

      Congrats to you Bill! What a wonderful addition to your collection! See you in October. :) Kitty

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  2. Wow Bill, you won again! I have a copy of Dunton's book which I'll share when I return to PDX. You just got a major show and tell for the Oregon Quilt Project Training Session. MBC

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    1. Oh, Mary! I was tempted to call you, but I'm so glad you've read the news. As I said to Barbara Brackman, I've been pacing back and forth like an expectant father. I'm really stunned.

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  3. This is so exciting! When I lived in Baltimore I was able to read some of Dr. Dunton's notes...all really interesting! Can't wait for Tuesday's mail!

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  4. Youʻve got all of us waiting for the sound of the delivery truck coming to a halt, footsteps up the walkway. What a thrilling chapter in quilt collecting, and we get to share it vicariously. Do quilters fist-pump?

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    1. If you're from Jersey, you fist pump. Tracking says it's in Portland. OMG.

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  5. That is so exciting! Although I'm from Jersey, I've never done a fist pump but I'm willing to learn! --- Mary Anne

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  6. Can't wait to read the rest of the story! Congrats!

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  7. Bird Dog Bill strikes again! Congrats my friend!

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  8. I think this quilt found you Bill! Can't wait to see the new addition. So happy for you.

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  9. I may be confused - I have my book open and will read it thoroughly to see if I can straighten it out in my head but...is the fabric (lots of blue/tan) draped over the thingy what you bought from Skinner? I can't see close up in spite of bifocals along with my mag glass... :) is it a quilt? or printed fabric? I don't see applique method....looks so smooth like penciled blue and thin black lines. I did notice in the text the word 'festoons' which I love. We don't use that word much, do we?

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    1. Hi Jean, It's a Broderie Perse Applique Chintz Medallion. All of the printed chintz is appliqued on to Marseilles, which is a thick, woven, 2-ply textured cloth used for bedspreads. The lot was listed as a bedspread. It's exactly how Achsah Wilkins medallions were made.

      If you click on each picture you may be able to see them bigger and a little better.

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  10. Fantastic,,, sounds like a great "buy"!!

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  11. Serious lover of your blog, a considerable number of your blog posts have really helped me out. Looking towards updates!

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