Baltimore Album Quilt, 1846–1850
S. R. Carroll
Cotton and cotton appliqué
115 × 112 1/2 in. (292.1 × 285.8 cm)
Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
Writing and Quilting
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
- Listen to poems and understand rhythm and pattern in rhyme.
- Write poems with repeating sounds.
- Create a quilt with repeating patterns.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Album quilts were made to honor an individual, to commemorate an important event, to celebrate a wedding, or to present as a gift to a special friend. A quilt can thus express friendship, love, or admiration. Album quilts consist of squares laid out in horizontal and vertical rows.
This quilt has a patriotic theme that celebrates Texas’s joining the union as a state in 1845. The square in the second row at the far right is decorated with a red star (the Lone Star) and the word “Texas”, surrounded by two sprays of oak leaves. The squares with eagles and cornucopias continue the patriotic theme. Other motifs found here are common in album quilts; a central square and a wicker basket of flowers, vases of flowers, and fruits in compotes.
This quilt is characterized by elaborate decoration, painstaking craftsmanship, and vivid designs. The twenty-five squares are laid out in rows and separated by sashes with diamond-shaped patterns that emphasize the design of each square. The asymmetrical arrangement of motifs adds to the liveliness of the quilt. The repeated colors and forms and the pattern of the stitching add to the dynamism and complexity of the quilt’s design.
Each square in this quilt has an appliquéd design. Pieces of fabric are cut, then sewn down onto a solid-colored fabric. The quilt top, the area with the elaborate pattern, is stitched to an inner layer of cotton or wool, and a backing of plain fabric. The entire quilt was tea-stained, resulting in the light tan color of the background cloth. This technique softened and blended the quilt’s colors.
The creation of a quilt was a group effort. Each woman contributed a block to the quilt and often signed it with her name. However, today it is difficult to attribute the quilts to specific individuals. Most album quilts were made in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore was a center of the Methodist Church in America and during the 1840s and 1850s many new churches were founded. Sewing circles at Methodist churches made not only clothes and bed coverings for the poor, but also many of the album quilts.
The term “album” indicates that these quilts are related to the nineteenth-century remembrance or autograph album. “The practice of giving individual blocks for quilts with the idea of having the whole recall friends to the owner, had its counterpart in the autograph album”. 1 These volumes contained collections of sentimental verse and drawings, religious homilies, artfully framed signatures, and elaborate endearments.
Dena S. Katzenberg, Baltimore Album Quilts (Baltimore:The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1981), p. 13.
Study the quilt. Name the designs on each block. Group designs into categories such as vases of flowers, eagles, etc. Develop names for other categories.
Certain motifs found here are common in this type of quilts; a central square and a wicker basket of flowers, vases of flowers, and fruits in compotes. Can you spot a square with a more unusual element?
Look at and describe the different patterns in this work.
Discuss how repetition gives unity and balance to the quilt. Are there any other elements (color, line, etc.) that repeat?
What elements provide unity and what elements give a sense of motion?
What is the effect of the white band around the patterns? And the red and green outlines?
How are quilts made?
How do you think this object was used? Is it functional or decorative or both?
This type of quilt is called an album quilt. Album quilts consist of squares laid out in horizontal and vertical rows, and were made to honor an individual, to commemorate an important event, to celebrate a wedding, or to present as a gift to a special friend. Explain what the word ‘album’ could mean in this context.
An album quilt can express feelings like friendship, love, admiration. What feeling do you think this quilt expresses? Why? Is it cheerful or sad, light or serious?
The red star and small text next to it give away the theme of this quilt. What might that theme be?
The quilt celebrates Texas joining the union as a state in 1845. The square in the second row at the far right is decorated with a red star (the Lone Star) and the word “Texas”, surrounded by two sprays of oak leaves. The squares with eagles and cornucopias continue the patriotic theme. Do you know why the work is called ‘Baltimore Album Quilt’?
Most album quilts were made in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore was a center of the Methodist Church in America and during the 1840s and 1850s many new churches were founded. Sewing circles at Methodist churches made not only clothes and bed coverings for the poor, but also many of the album quilts. Do you think this quilt was made by one person or more people? Why?
The creation of a quilt was a group effort. Each woman contributed a block to the quilt and often signed it with her name.
What about the fact that this quilt is displayed on a wall in a museum? How does this quilt differ from quilts that you have come across before?
Connecting to the Classroom
• Identify repeated elements in the quilt. Discuss balance and unity in the quilt’s design.
• Review the concept of symbolism. Discuss the patriotic symbols in the quilt. Find symbols of the U.S. and of Texas. How do you think the women who made this quilt felt about their country?
• Discuss quilt making as a group activity with individuals making single blocks then working together to assemble them.
Study the quilt. Have students describe the images, colors, and shapes in the individual blocks.
Identify elements that repeat throughout the quilt. Discuss rhythm, balance, and unity in the design of the quilt.
Use the quilt to discuss needlework as a women’s activity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Discuss creating the quilt as a collaborative activity.
Select poems and read them aloud to the class. Help students identify patterns of repeated sounds and rhythms in poems. Compare repeated sounds in poetry to repeated patterns in the quilt.
Select a theme for a class quilt. Have each student create a fabric quilt block. (see Art Lesson)
Have students write poems about the quilt. Compare the patterns in the quilt to the rhythms and repeating sounds in the poem.
Resources Available to Order
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All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.