March 14, 2014

William Penn's Treaty Expressed in Art and Textiles (Part 3)

Our last two posts dealt with images of Benjamin West's painting titled "Penn's Treaty with the Indians" and some manufactured, figurative textiles based on John Hall's engraving of the painting.  This time, we want to introduce you to a remarkable Quaker quilt that contains a block depicting a pen-drawn portrayal of the same subject.

Savery Friendship Star Quilt.  A holding of the American Folk Art Museum,
New York.  Photograph courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

This quilt measures 80" X 83 1/4", is dated 1844, and was made in Philadelphia by Elizabeth Hooten (Cresson) Savery and others.  The quilt was pieced using the English template method.  Three of the stars were set differently than the others, with two points of the star pointing upward rather than one.  (See the top row fourth and sixth star, and the bottom row far right star.)  The fabrics are cotton and linen.

Fifty different names appear on the quilt, inscribed in either printed or cursive letters.  Most of those whose names appear have been traced to central Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania.  It is believed that no more than three or four hands were responsible for the inscriptions.  Each of the names is accompanied by either stamped or hand-drawn garlands or vines.

Twenty-seven of the blocks also bear pen-and-ink depictions, including a detailed rendering of a portion of "Penn's Treaty with the Indians".

Detail of block from the Savery Friendship Star Quilt depicting the Penn's Treaty
motif.  Photograph courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Realistic pen-and-ink drawn motifs appeared frequently on Quaker and other quilts during the early and middle 19th century and seem to have been extremely popular in the 1840s based on the number of quilts of that period from the mid-Atlantic region that display such drawings. According to Sandi Fox, this attribute was seen less often by the last quarter of the century.

The art of penmanship, and the ability to write clearly and cleanly on fabric, were skills taught to young women in most upper-class and Quaker schools in the early to mid-1800s.  These skills were used to inscribe friendship quilts and for marking domestic linens, but not all students became proficient at inscribing with ink on fabric.  Many are the quilts inscribed, not by the person whose name appears on a block, but by a single hand for all names--a hand trained and expert in the talent of inscribing fabric with pen and ink.  Try it with a fountain pen.  It isn't easy!

In the case of the Penn's Treaty block, the person who inscribed it not only had a talent for inscribing fabric with pen and ink but also possessed artistic ability that may or may not have been gained through schooling.


Fox, Sandi.  For Purpose and Pleasure, Quilting Together in Nineteenth Century America.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.

Warren, Elizabeth V. and Sharon L. Eisenstat.  Glorious American Quilts, the Quilt Collection of the Museum of American Folk Art.  New York: Museum of American Folk Art, 1996.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.