Monday, November 13, 2017

Commemorative Quilts

by Erin Doane, curator

Quilts keep people warm and beautify their homes. They can also commemorate events. CCHS has a wonderful collection of quilts made to mark various happenings including weddings, wars, and fundraisers. Over this past summer, we had commemorative quilts on display here at the museum. Here is a sampling of those quilts.

The first quilt marks the relocation of this institution. The Chemung County Historical Society moved from 304 William Street to 415 East Water Street in 1982. CCHS members and volunteers made a quilt to commemorate the opening of the museum at its new location in the former Chemung Canal Bank building. The Historical Society’s logo and the date May 15, 1982 are embroidered near the bottom right of the quilt.

Commemorative quilt, 1982
Detail of embroidery on quilt
Other businesses and organizations appear on quilts that were created locally to recognize collaborative efforts to raise funds or to make improvements to the local community.  A heavily-embroidered coverlet highlighting some local businesses was designed by William Brownlow and embroidered by the Friendly Class of the First Methodist Church on Baldwin Street in Elmira. Each of the 13 squares represents a business or group of businesses including Dimon & Bacorn Truckmen, the Second National Bank, and J. Greener Pianos. It is possible that the businesses made financial contributions in order to be included on the coverlet.

Embroidered coverlet, c. 1912
Detail of one embroidered block
Major events in U.S. history have also been commemorated locally in little squares of fabric. During the Civil War (1861-1865), men from throughout Chemung County enlisted or were drafted into local regiments. Elmira served as a military depot and rendezvous point for western New York. Thousands of Union soldiers trained at four camps here before being sent south to fight. For many years after the war, veterans met at regimental reunions. Ribbons from those reunions were often sewn into commemorative quilts. One crazy quilt in the museum’s collection commemorates both national and local events and people involved in the Civil War. The locations of major battles are embroidered above the fans around the edge of the quilt. Names of notable generals are embroidered throughout. At its center is a memorial ribbon for Ulysses S. Grant. Other ribbons on the quilt are from reunions of the local 141st and 161st New York Volunteer Regiments. 

Crazy quilt, post-1888
Detail of quilt showing 161st Regiment reunion ribbon
Many quilts were made to mark the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Genevieve Taylor of Elmira designed a quilt to celebrate the Bicentennial. Members of the community embroidered the 49 individual squares. Designs on the quilt include images from the American Revolution, national figures, and objects common in 1776 such as tin lanterns and spinning wheels. Images from local history are also shown, including John Hendy’s cabin, Mark Twain’s study, and a Westside Railroad trolley.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
Students from 1st through 6th grade at Hendy Avenue School also created a quilt commemorating the Bicentennial as a school project. The quilt is made from fabric prints of the students’ original crayon drawings. Images commemorating the Bicentennial include the Liberty Bell, Paul Revere, and the Boston Tea Party.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
One more, very common thing to commemorate with a quilt is friendship. During much of the 19th century, quilts were made by groups of women and given as gifts for weddings and other celebrations. Each women would produce a single square and then all the pieces were sewn together. Many friendship quilts include the signatures of those who made the quilt, dedications to the recipient, and mementos of times spent together. Abbey A. Baldwin of Southport received an autographed friendship quilt in 1851. Each of the 36 squares contains the signature of a friend or family member from Southport, Elmira, Horseheads, Corning, or Ridgebury, Pennsylvania.

Friendship quilt, 1851
Album quilts were another type of friendship quilt popular in the mid-19th century. They feature elaborate applique designs, typically in reds, blues, and greens. This quilt was given as a gift to Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Smith by their friends in Elmira in 1860. Squares were made by 29 individuals including members of the Brace, Likes, and Fuller families. Each square has a unique pattern and is signed by its maker.

Album quilt, 1860
In 1890, the friends of Katherine Sheehan Connelly made a quilt as a gift for her wedding. Each of the 16 squares in the crazy quilt was crafted from silks and velvets that may have come from the young women’s old dresses. The squares are decorated with elaborate embroidery, monograms, and flowers. Two of the squares include silk-screened portraits of young women and others have ribbons from events hosted by the Knights of Tara Hiawatha, a local Irish social club. 

Wedding quilt, 1890
Detail of a silk-screened portrait
Another silk-screened portrait

1 comment:

  1. the screen portraits are very interesting....that is a beautiful quilt