Sunday, October 31, 2010

Barn Raising Log Cabin Top, C. 1890

Barn Raising Log Cabin Top, c. 1890
The Palmer/Wirfs Antiques Expo is happening this weekend at the Expo Center in Portland, and for the first time in years, I found a treasure. Two, actually. Here's one of them. It's a Barn Raising Log Cabin top, c. 1890, made of fine wools, silks, and marvelous printed paisleys pieced on fabric foundation squares and bound for presentation.

I saw it from far away. How could you not see it? The Quilt was hanging in a booth, draped over something that was acting as a barrier between booths. If you haven't been to the Expo, it's one of the largest anywhere. Three huge buildings full of collectibles and junque, as I sometimes call it. My mother would take one look and say, "Well, there's a lot of it!"

I've always admired the Barn Raising Log Cabin, and wonder why I haven't collected more of them. Just like other quilts I enjoy, this one sings and dances. The curious thing about the pattern is how it is really the sum of all the blocks. If I had never seen this type of quilt and you handed me one block, I wouldn't have imagined it adding up this way visually. It is dazzling.

The foundation looks like a patchwork utility quilt.
A big surprise was being able to see the foundation on the back of the quilt top. It made me think I should be collecting more tops, so I can learn a thing or two about how quilts are made. I won't have this top finished because the back is wonderful! People can learn from it, and when displayed on a wall, as I feel it's meant to be, nobody will be bothered by the humble back revealing the quilt's inner workings. It's like a patchwork utility quilt hiding behind a fancy parlor display piece.

Detail of back foundation with printed words on one square.
Although the back was really never meant to be seen, I love it just as much as the front. It is the supporting cast and crew, the underlings who usually never get their day in the sun, or even 15 minutes of fame. Some people might see this top and think, "What can I do to fix it?" In my opinion, it doesn't need fixing. I'm grateful that it was never finished. It taught me things.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bible Story by Polly Raymond, Gee's Bend, Alabama

Bible Story by Polly Raymond, Gee's Bend, Alabama
I blogged about this amazing Gee's Bend quilt the other day, and it has arrived!! Gee's Bend music playing in the background. Have Mercy! I know I've been changed.

The quilt didn't really want to be put on a rack to have it's picture taken. Just like a beautiful child who didn't want to sit still. I did manage to get a full view shot and a couple details, though.

What more can I say, really? I'm pretty speechless over the whole thing. Time to celebrate!!

Miraculous. Important. Divine.

Rudy, 2003
I'm venturing into new territory. Following a series of chance events combined with extraordinary good fortune, I'm curating my first quilt show at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon. The show, which will run during the month of February, 2011, is called "Small Wonders: Doll Quilts by Andrea Balosky" and the subject inspires me and fills me with joy.

Alvin, 2001
After spending roughly four hours going through the quilts with doll collector and adoption advocate Merrily Ripley, the longtime friend of Andrea Balosky who owns the collection, three words were stuck in my head. Miraculous. Important. Divine. The group officially contains 108 quilts, a number with special meaning in Buddhism. The artist, who is native to Hawaii, converted to Buddhism several years ago and now lives a reclusive life in the Himalayas. She isn't making quilts these days, but her legacy is simply astounding.

Albert, 2001
It was a dream of Andrea's to one day have these quilts published as a group in a book, and I'm working on a self-published catalog to accompany the show. Each quilt has a name, part of an elaborate cataloging system, honoring friends, family, noteworthy individuals and historic figures. The quilt that really knocked my socks off is called Rudy, named for Rudy Giuliani, Mayor of New York City during 9/11. My heart skipped a beat when I saw this quilt and heard it was named for Giuliani. I saw the World Trade Center collapsing, and I saw the indomitable spirit of New York all at once. The quilt is a stirring, memorable tribute.

Joseph, 2002
So, I don't want to give it all away here, but I did want to share a few of my favorite quilts. There is an energy, an exuberance, a joie de vivre throughout this body of work. The quilts are curious, quirky, witty, visually sophisticated, and very human. They truly are small wonders.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Dream Come True

Last night, one of my dreams - a dream I thought was an impossible dream - came true.

Back in 2002, I was visiting my godmother, Jackie Schneider, in New York City. She knew I liked quilts, so she told me to go to the Whitney Museum of American Art, where there was supposed to be a great quilt show. I was staying at the Four Seasons, and it was close enough to the Whitney, so I went over and checked it out. I had no idea what I was about to see. It was The Quilts of Gee's Bend.

The only other quilt show I'd seen before was an exhibit called Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1989. That show featured jaw-dropping masterpieces from the Museum's permanent collection, including the famous Charlotte Gillingham Album Quilt from 1842-1843. Basically, that's the type of quilt I expected to see on display at a museum.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

When I walked into the Whitney, the first quilt I saw was Lutisha Pettway's "Bars" denim work clothes quilt, circa 1950. For a split second, I thought, "What is this?" followed immediately by "Oh my GOD! This is AMAZING!" It was a revelation. It changed everything. Even though the quilts had very humble origins, the vision was crystal clear. I was standing in the presence of very sophisticated works of art. The visual sophistication wasn't just academic, though. These were the most big-hearted quilts I'd ever seen.

Bible Story by Polly Raymond of Gee's Bend, Alabama.
This week, noted author Kyra Hicks, a Facebook friend who I hope to meet in person one day, was selling some quilts on eBay. Kyra has written several wonderful books about African American quilts and quilt makers. One of the quilts she was selling was a Polly Raymond Bible Story quilt from Gee's Bend, and I was the lucky winner of the auction. Actually, lucky doesn't even begin to describe it.

Polly Raymond is one of seven daughters in a family of the ten children. Her mother is the irrepressible Lucy Mingo, who once participated in the Selma to Montgomery March for Civil Rights, aided by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking about the event, Mingo declared, "No white man gonna tell me not to march. Only make me march harder."

I love Lucy! And I haven't even met her yet.

Recently, I was telling Julie Silber of The Quilt Complex that I would be speaking next summer at the Quilter's Affair in Sisters, Oregon, where the quilt makers from Gee's Bend will also appear as featured guests. Very big deal for me! I saw Ricky Tims perform there last summer, and I thought, "One day, I want to be up on that stage." Julie told me if there's one person I need to meet, it is Lucy Mingo. If she's there, I will have her daughter's quilt with me, and I'll be waiting with open arms.

My godmother from New York, "Aunt Jackie" as I called her, passed away a few years ago. She was always one of my favorite people, but I don't think she ever realized how much her suggestion to go to the Whitney changed me. I wish I could just pick up the phone and call her.

Somehow, I feel like she was with me today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unexpected Correlation

Front and back view of a New York Beauty top found on eBay.
Last week, goodies arrived in the mail, but I didn't know just how good until I started opening packages. Earlier this year I'd found a piece of foundation fabric for the New York Beauty on eBay. I bought a large piece of it, thinking it would be a great addition to my upcoming show at the Benton County Historical Museum. I wanted to show viewers something about foundation piecing and the modern evolution of the pattern.

Detail New York Beauty foundation, printed on fabric.
The foundation, printed on fabric, is called "Foundation by the Yard" - designed by Sharon Hultgren for Benartex, Inc. Since I don't really know how to sew, I wasn't planning on using the foundation for anything but the show, and I couldn't tell you exactly how it is used. But it appears that you sew fabric pieces on to the foundation using the guidelines. At least, that's how I assume you'd do it.

Batik New York Beauty kit found on eBay. Same foundation!!
When the unfinished orange quilt top arrived, I looked at the back and thought, "How about that? It's the same foundation!" What a great coincidence. Last week I also bought a batik New York Beauty kit, also found on eBay. Again, I do not intend to make a quilt out of it. I just wanted it for my show. When I opened the package, same foundation. What wonderful luck!! Now I have a large piece of foundation, a kit with another large piece of foundation, and an unfinished top with foundation showing on the back. 

Using foundation doesn't always guarantee perfect points.
According to the people I know who do make quilts, foundation piecing revolutionized the New York Beauty by making the pattern much easier to piece. That makes sense to me, and it caused me to look closely at the details of the quilt top. Interestingly, the points aren't all perfect. I guess this pattern is still difficult, even when using foundation.

I'm simply giddy about the unexpected correlation between these three items. All three will make a great display in one of the recessed wall nooks at the Benton County Historical Museum, lending insight to viewers about how the quilt is made today. 

How cool is that?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dumb Luck, Rare Find

Over the years, I've developed an eye for the unusual by looking at quilts on eBay. I see thousands of quilts each week, and have realized that certain quilts are common - Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother's Flower Garden, etc. The quilts I haven't seen are the ones that pique my interest.

When I saw this quilt, listed as a Civil War commemorative quilt, I thought, "That's different." So I bid on it and won it. The American flag caught my attention because it was upside down and backwards, but I didn't put much more thought into it until it arrived. When I got it out of the box, it occurred to me that I might be able to get an idea of the date by counting the stars in the American flag. There were 40. 


A google search led to me discover that South Dakota became the 40th state on November 2, 1889, and the 41st state was Montana, November 8, 1889. 


So I googled "40 Star American flag" and it led me to the web site of flag collector Anthony Iasso, On the site, the 40 star flag was classified as extremely rare. I sent an email to Anthony, asking if he could take a look at a picture of the flag and let me know what he thought. I wasn't sure if the flag had been cut down and was missing some stars, because it appears the red stripes on top and bottom were cut down because they are narrower than the other stripes. I thought maybe the same was true for the side edge, and maybe it was really a 46 star flag, which is much more common than the 40 star flag.

Anthony e-mailed me today with more information, and good news - he believes it is really a 40 star flag! According to him, 40 star flags were produced in a very limited number. The U.S. jumped from 38 states to 40 in one day when North and South Dakota were both introduced into the union at the same time. Many people thought that Dakota would be brought in as one state, since the Dakota Territory was one territory. In anticipation of that, many 39 star flags were produced. Just six days later, Montana was brought in as the 41st state. Three days later, Washington State was added, and that threw things off when it came to the number of stars on the flag.

"I know of about 10-20 of these that have surfaced over the years," said Anthony, "all in the same style, and all printed on what we consider the 'reverse' of the flag today." He also said the positioning of the stars in rows of 8-7-8-8-7-8 is correct for an authentic flag. "They are 'dancing' or rotated on their axis which is typical of the style," he said.

In a follow-up e-mail, I asked how much a flag like that would be worth, and although he doesn't officially do appraisals, he said he would place it somewhere in the $400 to $700 range. I purchased the quilt for just under $485, and had wondered if I got a good deal. It seems I did.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Do Quilts Have Healing Powers?

Economy Patch, c.1810, New England
This quilt may be familiar to anyone who read my blog before I moved over to Blogger. I thought I'd blog about it today because I'm stuck at home with some kind of viral bug, and I've been wrapped up in this quilt for a majority of the last 24 hours. 

It is the oldest quilt in my collection, and is an Economy Patch made in the early 1800's. In my earlier blog, I said,

"One of the things I love about this quilt is its original condition. It has signs of wear in some of the fabric and on the binding, but is very sturdy and actually the only quilt I use on my bed. It hasn't been touched by restorers, and the condition tells a story."

Economy Patch is a block design that visually looks like a center square within a square on point. In my quilt, it is actually a square with triangles on all four sides, and the triangles form the square on point. These blocks are alternated with rows of plain square patches, and there are triangles pointing inward around the whole edge. 

The quilt has some unusual characteristics, including two colors of wool twill tape binding, red on three sides and green on part of one side. The back is made from woven coverlet material. It has been called colonial overshot coverlet, but I'm really not sure if that's exactly what it is. 

I brought it to show an appraiser one time, and she discovered cat hair on it. That's when I had to fess up about using it on my bed. I've been scolded many, many times about using this quilt on my bed, and even promised I wouldn't do that any more...but sorry...I broke my promise. I won't go as far as calling it my "binky" but it's about as close as anything could be.

If quilts have healing powers, I'm betting on this quilt to be my healing quilt. In the winter, it's very warm. In the summer, it breathes, and is never too warm. It's almost like it has a life of its own. It doesn't care how old it is, it just does its job - beautifully and with dignity. So, if you're wondering where I am over the next few days, the likely answer is "under the quilt!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wildly Whimsical Wonder

Wildly whimsical wonder, found on eBay
This wildly whimsical wonder is actually a rescue quilt. Sold as a cutter on eBay, and purchased last week for $31, the quilt has a combination of elements unlike anything I've seen before.

The quilt has 27 circular wheels - 25 of which appear to be a variation on Brackman #3469 and 3470, both called Sunburst. Two of the wheels are comparatively simple, just circles divided into eight wedges.

One of the most unusual things about this quilt is the background, which alternates bright red and soft yellow. At first, the overall effect is broad stripes, but they aren't really stripes.

Has anyone out there ever seen anything like this quilt? If you have, please comment!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

eBay: New York Beauty Top

This New York Beauty Top was found on eBay
What a great discovery I just had on eBay! This nice little top is unfinished - perfect for an ephemera grouping in my 2011 show. 

Display nook in the exhibit hall at the Benton County Historical Museum.
The exhibit hall at the Benton County Museum has two nooks, glass covered cases built in to the wall on both sides when facing the stage. This top will be a wonderful display item for one of those cases, and it will show how foundation piece work revolutionized and revitalized the New York Beauty quilt pattern. All the foundation is visible from behind.

...first time I heard the word "wonky"...

New York Beauty, c. 1940, Ohio
The first time I heard the word "wonky" it was being used to describe this show-stopping New York Beauty. I was showing quilts to the Columbia-Willamette Quilt Study Group in the summer of 2009, and when I pulled out this quilt, someone exclaimed "the quilting is so wonky!" I thought it was amusing, and the word stuck with me. 

This quilting always makes people wonder
Back in 2004 when I bought the quilt from a couple who sells old quilts in Texas, they told me it was from Ohio. It's a good thing I looked back at my notes. I'd been telling people it was from Texas - easy to believe because it's effect is big and bold even if it is a little wild. The sellers wanted to make sure I knew about the odd quilting. I got the impression it had kept others from buying the quilt, but not me. I bought it on the spot, and have never had any regrets about it.

You really have to see this quilt in detail to know why it was called wonky. In the top construction, most of the piecework is fairly good and well organized. Some pieces don't match up, such as the intersecting points in the eight-pointed diamond star cornerstones, but there are many sharp points and the overall effect is good. However, when you look closely at stitches in the diamond grid quilting, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

As you follow each line of stitches, they conform fairly well to the overall quilting design, but the individual stitches change in size and direction. It is common for people to think this quilt was pieced by one person and quilted by another, but I'm not so sure. The piecing was done by machine, as was the double line red applique that crosses through the center of each block. It's possible that it was all done by one person who was just a little more adept with a machine than with the hand stitching. 

To me, the most surprising thing was finding the word wonky in the dictionary. I'd really thought it was just something quilt makers invented. Meanings include crooked or off-center, unstable or shaky, and even faulty! How funny!! I knew exactly what it meant the first time I heard it. Maybe it's not the most endearing term for some, but I embrace wonkiness. There's something very human about it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mystery of an On-Point Beauty

Crown of Thorns / Rocky Mountain Road, c. 1910
"It's not Mountain Mist. It's earlier," I thought, looking at the quilt fresh out of the box from an eBay seller in St. Louis. The mystery quilt has four full blocks set on point, surrounded by half blocks around the edges, but there are more points than the Mountain Mist pattern - and the points are longer and thinner. "Hmmmmm," I thought. "This must be a clue."

Mountain Mist New York Beauty, c. 1930
The Mountain Mist pattern included a suggestion to use burnt orange and yellow on white. For a more traditional looking quilt, the pattern offered a red, white, and blue combination as an alternative. Even though the Mountain Mist quilt was made in red, white and blue, there are a few things about this quilt that don't conform to the Mountain Mist quilt and pattern. 

The mystery quilt has red quarter circles with 15 points, blue sashing with 20 points on each side, and single-colored 15-pointed stars as cornerstones, each within a circle in a square. The Mountain Mist quilt pictured above, which seems to be a slight variation on the original published pattern, has two-colored quarter circles with 15 points, sashing with 14 points on each side, and two-colored, eight-pointed stars constructed of diamonds as the cornerstones. The intersecting blocks form circles. In my mystery quilt, that form is more in the shape of a rounded square. 


My curiosity led me to the Quilt Index, where I saw similar quilts that were documented as pattern #1077 in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. All roads seem to lead back to this brilliant resource. Recently, I started to learn more about published pattern sources referenced by Brackman, and it's been a revelation in the study of the pattern most widely known as New York Beauty. As I match published patterns with the quilts I've collected, it has helped me begin to piece together the history of the New York Beauty. Now, when I see quilts with shared characteristics, I think published pattern.

The illustration of pattern #1077 looks like the Mountain Mist quilt, but there are two other sources listed: Crown of Thorns and Rocky Mountain Road by Hall. "Hall?" I asked myself. Still relatively a noob when it comes to scholarly quilt study, I'd seen references to Hall in Brackman's book, but I hadn't ever asked myself what, or who Hall was. I felt a little stupid, but also full of delight. Would the Hall patterns be the missing link between the late 19th century quilts and the 1930 Mountain Mist quilts?

Hall, as it turns out, is Carrie Hall, who published hundreds of quilt patterns in the early 20th century. I found a book by Bettina Havig, called "Carrie Hall Blocks: Over 800 Historical Patterns from the College of the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas." Of course, I ordered a copy! Can't wait for it to arrive, but until it does I'm wondering if the Hall patterns will verify my ideas about the mystery quilt. I think it may be Hall, and I can't wait to find out if it's really true. 

For me, the discovery of Carrie Hall represents a potential link between the old-school Rocky Mountain Road / Crown of Thorn quilts and the 1930 Mountain Mist New York Beauty. It's a link I'd been missing, but the mystery of an on-point beauty led me there. Was Hall a source for Mountain Mist? What was Hall's source? Will one of the Hall Patterns have the same number of points, same dimensions and same characteristics as this mystery on-point beauty? We'll soon find out!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weduba Camp China, Rangeley, Maine

You may know me as a quilt lover, but I really enjoy all types of objects, especially vintage and antique objects. This week, I received a surprise package from my mother, who lives in Maine. 

The Volckening summer home, across the lake from Weduba
The summer home at Rangeley Lake is for sale, and Mom has been busy trying to clear things out. Over the summer, she sent me a surprise package with two quilts. Mom likes sending surprise packages! This week, she sent a lovely little set of demitasse cups and saucers, along with a matching serving plate. 

The serving plate and demitasse set were part of the camp china from Weduba, our family's first summer home in Maine. Weduba was built in 1909 by the Ludekes, my mother's grandparents. It was, and still is, one of the grand lodges on Rangeley Lake. Made of huge logs, the spacious structure had breathtaking views of the sunsets reflecting off the lake through the birch, and a massive stone fireplace.

Weduba, Rangeley Lake, Maine, built in 1909
Much has changed in 100 years. The lodge was built during an era when big hotels lined the shores of Rangeley Lake, and the railroads transported families there for summer vacations from all over New England, New York, and New Jersey. The lodge has had several owners, and was opened as an inn and restaurant by the Davis family in the early 1950's. It has had a series of owners, undergone significant renovation, and had its name changed several times over the years. 

Weduba is now called Loon Lodge. Photo courtesy of Loon Lodge.
Weduba, now called Loon Lodge, is open once again and they even have a web site. I was a little blown away by that! It's not always easy to get an internet connection in Rangeley. My great grandparents had a long journey to get to their summer home. I'm sure they would've never imagined being able to send an instant electronic message from Portland, Oregon to Rangeley, Maine - but that's what I did.

Loon Lodge during the holidays. Photo courtesy of Loon Lodge.
Thank you to Loon Lodge for allowing me to post some photos from their web site. The place looks marvelous! I try to stop in for dinner whenever I'm in the area, but since I live on the other side of the country, I don't get there as often as I'd like. Some interesting side notes about Weduba. The room where the pub is now was once my great grandmother's bedroom. It was she who had the money to build the lodge, and she was so pleased with the finished structure, she included a generous tip with her payment.

Back to the china. I knew about the set, but hadn't realized it was the Ludeke's camp china. It is Imperial Crown China from Austria, and is rather delicate looking for a log summer home in the woods of rural Maine. Detailed with gold, the demitasse cups are so fine, you can see light passing through them when held up to the light. The Ludeke family was affluent and refined. For them, this was roughing it.

Afternoon in Philomath

The Benton County Historical Museum, Philomath, Oregon
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Benton County Historical Museum, meeting with the staff and discussing ideas for my show at the museum next year. I will be showing a big group of New York Beauties. It will be my first show, and it will be the first time the museum has a show from one private collection.

Rocky Mountain Road, c. 1880
Since 1951, the Benton County Historical Society has been preserving artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts. After Philomath citizens prevented the demolition of the 1867 Philomath College building and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places, The Society opened the building to the public in 1981 as a museum, research library and art gallery.

The main gallery space is the second floor auditorium, which to this day exists as a multi-purpose space. In addition to exhibitions, the space hosts meetings, lectures and tours. There is seating and a stage on one end of the hall, and an open space with a small video kiosk on the other end. There are large windows on both ends, with special UV filtering blinds to let in light but protect the artwork.

New York Beauty, c. 1930
You could display most anything in the space, and it would look good. But quilts look especially great in the space. They can hang a few quilts from the high, vaulted ceiling, and even display one flat in a big, covered display box. The space also has two covered display cases, one on each side, built in to the wall. The wall display cases will be perfect for ephemera, and I think I've collected enough related artifacts to make good use of the cases.

Mountain Mist New York Beauty Pattern, 1930
I showed several quilts to Irene Zenev, Mark Tolonen, Mary Gallagher, and Liz Hoffman, and discussed ideas with them about how the show would come together. We talked about the display, storyline, points of historical interest, and agreed to do a few guided tours. I asked if it would be OK for me to put together a small printed catalog, and they liked the idea.

Rocky Mountain Road, c. 1875
This whole project will be a good reason to do more research on these quilts, document them, and get some better quality professional photography done. We all see it as a unique opportunity to assemble a group of quilts representing 150 years of American quilt history in a pattern, and all from one private collection. I have a feeling the show could travel to other locations in the future.