Monday, September 18, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 5: constructing mythologies

The search for deeper meaning is at the heart of the inclination
to construct mythologies about quilts.
"What does it all mean?" I wondered, looking at a remarkable pictorial hexagon quilt made around 1900. I got the quilt from an auction house in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania, but there was no information with it. The iconography seemed to refer to secular Christianity, and although it was hard to say anything more specific about the quilt's meaning, there were plenty of theories.

Curious...very curious! 

The search for deeper meaning is at the heart of the inclination to construct mythologies about quilts. In the pictorial hexagon quilt, the iconography inventory included: two buildings, a central cross, nine chalices, four keys, two candles, two anchors, a roof-shaped rainbow, 49 flowers, and two objects at the bottom that look like bones. Curious...very curious! 

Considering the amount of labor involved and the specificity of the imagery, there had to be special reasons for the creation of this quilt. The thing is, unless some form of documentation appears, we do not know. We can only guess, and it's OK to do that, but it would always be a guess.

It is important to understand what we can say about a quilt, 
and also what we cannot say.

Until recent years, pictorial quilts were few and far between. They were often one-of-a-kind originals, such as the 1930s quilt from Ohio with a log cabin and an American Flag. There could be many reasons why it was created, but it's important to understand what we can say about the quilt, and also what we cannot say.

We can provide a detailed physical description, with dimensions, colors, fabrics, methods, skill level and an inventory of pictorial elements. We can also discuss what each pictorial element represents. Certain aspects are educated guesses, such as circa date. When makers' information is not known, I try to avoid statements about their identities, but the clues can be tantalizing. 

The pictorial hexagon quilt is an object with tantilizing clues. Although the combination of elements seems to refer to secular Christianity, the denomination is unclear. The purpose behind the quilt is also unclear. Could it be an expression of Catholicism? Is it based on period sampler designs? Could it be a wedding quilt, depicting two families uniting through a marriage? We simply do not know, but that doesn't stop us from going down the path of constructed mythology and romanticism.

Ask, and if you're lucky, you'll receive.

I hope to someday learn more about the pictorial hexagon quilt, which is why I post photos of it from time to time. It is such a specific quilt, I have a hard time believing nobody out there knows something about it. Ironically, I've gotten some flack from critics who are quick to say asking for information reveals how little I know. In fact, it reveals the unlimited potential to learn. Ask, and if you're lucky, you'll receive. Until then, it will be entertaining to discuss ideas about the quilt, even though the ideas would not qualify as part of its history.


  1. Interesting piece of Christian symbols: to me they are, cross signifying hope, and Christ's sacrifice for mankind's sins, the anchors for faith, the chalice the sacrament of holy communion, the flags/standards for being standard bearer forGod/our Lord, flowers for beauty, producing fruit and /or seed pleasing to God ...addresses continuity, ,the big houses,many windows from the Bible Jeus says in my Father's house there are many rooms, the rainbow for the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood.The work is so rich with basic Christian symbolism from the Bible. What a lovely work of art.

    1. Thank you. That's exactly how mythologies are constructed. By the way, the "flags" I believe are keys.