September 26, 2012

Quaker Aesthetics and the Album Quilt Made by Charlotte Gillingham

"That does not look like a Quaker quilt!"  This is often heard when encountering quilts made by members of the Religious Society of Friends because there is an expectation that Quakers only made quilts that were plain, using the palette of dove-gray, black, and brown associated with their style of dress.

Detail of "Album Quilt, #1945-35-1".  Collection of the Philadelphia Museum
of Art.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
Many historical Quaker quilts are "plain", and this block of the "Album Quilt" attributed to Charlotte Gillingham does contain colors we expect to find in a Quaker quilt of the period 1842-1843.  However, the embellishments barely hint at the decorativeness of this quilt.
A visit to the Costume & Textile Study Room, Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Costume and Textiles, Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011 was a wonderful experience.  Although the facility is not open to the general public, access is occasionally granted upon submission of a detailed application.  Accompanied by research assistant Barbara Garrett and researcher Wallace Fullerton, Mary's visit was conducted as part of an ongoing study project.  In addition to a few photographs we included in the immediately preceding post about initials, we wanted to share some further images from this special occasion.
Charlotte Gillingham's "Album Quilt" is one of the most spectacular historical Quaker quilts known to exist.  You can learn details about it by searching the "Collections" data base on the Philadephia Museum of Art's web site at You might also recognize the quilt as the Hancock Album Quilt, 1842-1843 or The Charlotte Gillingham Album Quilt.  (Nicoll, 20 and Fox, 45.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art's Le Vine Associate Curator, H. Kristina Haugland, and Mary
Holton Robare examine a portion of the "Album Quilt, #1945-35-1".  Collection of
the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Photograph from the collection of Mary Holton Robare.
Charlotte Gillingham was a Hicksite Quaker, as was her fiancee Samuel Padgett Hancock for whom she made the quilt.  According to the museum web site mentioned above:  "The theological turmoil of the Hicksite-Orthodox separation of 1827 had lessened the asesthetic simplicity or 'plainness' that had been somewhat characteristic of Quaker decorative arts in the eighteenth century."  The Hicksite community involved in making and inscribing the blocks of Charlotte's quilt were probably not as strict about plainness as they had been in the past.  We must also consider the prevailing tastes of these city-dwellers compared with their rural counterparts.
"Album Quilt, #1945-35-1", detail.  Collection of the Philadelphia Museum
of Art.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
The Friends who were involved with the "Album Quilt" were wealthy.  Many came from merchant families.  They had the means and the ability to acquire the finest materials.  They also had the leisure time to use these materials at the highest levels of technical accomplishment, creating quilt blocks by piecing, the use of applique and chintz-work, and with lots of embroidery as seen in the following images.
"Album Quilt, #1945-35-1", details.  Collection of the Philadephia Museum of Art.
Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.
We are grateful to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for allowing us to share some highlights of Mary's visit in 2011.
Fox, Sandi.  For Purpose and Pleasure: Quilting Together in Nineteenth Century America.  Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.
Nicoll, Jessica F.  Quilted for Friends: Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855.  Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1986.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012