Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bicentennial Quilt & The Returnee

At Thursday night's Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting, Mary Fons gave a talk about the Great American Quilt Revival of the 1970s, and how the period led the quilt industry to be what it is today. Right up my alley. Or, as I like to say lately, "da kine I like."

We chatted about it later at Radio Room, and I revealed my recent epiphany. Those zany, madcap polyester quilts I'd been collecting were actually the quilts of the revival.

The 1970s came sharply into focus for the quilt world in the last few years. Maybe I had something to do with that, but surely I am not the only one who figured out all roads led back to the 1970s.

Recently I bought an interesting Bicentennial quilt. I'd never really thought of collecting Bicentennial quilts, since many of the really great ones will never be sold, but this one caught my eye for a couple reasons. First, I liked the design; second, the price was very low.

I lived in Jersey in '76
Almost as soon as the auction ended, I saw another one on eBay.

It was over $170 more than what I paid (I gave less than $30 for mine). The mattress-pad quilting should've been a giveaway that the quilt was mass-produced, but seeing another one confirmed it.

I wasn't unhappy to have a mass-produced Bicentennial quilt. In 1976, the Bicentennial was hugely marketed, and there were many products. All I needed to do was identify the manufacturer, if possible. Sometimes it's hard to do, because tags are usually removed. Luckily, I found a record on The Quilt Index.

Louisville Bedding of Louisville, Kentucky produced the quilt based on an original design by Albert G. Fleming, who made quilt for Bedford Public Library, Cuyahoga county, Ohio; which conducted a fund raising raffle with the quilt as a prize. The winner of the raffle donated the quilt to the White House. The design was reproduced with screen printing, mass produced and marketed. 

While enjoying Mary's lecture, I thought, "should've brought those Bicentennial quilts for show and tell!" But I did bring a neat, c. 1900 patchwork quilt, also patriotic in red, white and blue. It's one I'd sold/traded with another collector a couple years ago, and recently we swapped back. Quilt boomerang, we call it. I am happy to welcome back the returnee.

Here's that quilt. Yeah, it's amazing. I think Mary liked it, too. She was trying to get pictures of it, I noticed. The quilt originally came from Laura Fisher in New York, and is a wonderful, early example of a Bargello style quilt with a zig-zag design. Somehow, it looks so much more fresh and modern than most of the Bargello quilts made in the last 20 years, and it is also an optical illusion quilt. Just ten colors, but what an incredible use of color. Glad to have it back. It's a great example of how some old quilts look surprisingly modern.


  1. Ten colors - hum - looked like four to me - ha ha - did the count and with better eyes it would indeed be 10.

  2. What fun, and how lucky for you to hear that lecture! I loved learning about those quilts from the era when I researched my book, and it is terrific to see your posting of some examples here. Thanks!