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Appliquéd Counterpane

Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
Other: 106 3/4 x 128 1/2in. (271.1 x 326.4cm)
Plain and printed cottons
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2009.609.1
This is a rectangular bed counterpane, wider than high, made of four seamed panels of off-white woven "Marseilles" quilted fabric and ornamented with cut-out chintz appliqués. The medallion center 34 ½" in diameter is a floral wreath surrounding a printed basket filled with fruits, leaves, and wheat sheaves. A brown bird is perched in the upper right of the basket. Eight butterflies, equally spaced, surround the outside of the floral wreath. Chintz appliqués at center sides, center top, and center bottom face the center medallion; they consist of woodland florals in a natural base. Two center side designs are identical. Motifs at center top and bottom have no floral spray below the main motif. An undulating floral vine fills the space surrounding the main design, undulating and dipping toward the four outer corners. Two upper corners of the counterpane have identical chintz appliqué motifs. The counterpane is bordered on three sides with printed patterned chintz in a design of fruit and leaves. The two bottom corners of the border are mitered. The coverlet is bound with white cotton patterned tape.
Label:This counterpane was decorated with flowers, leaves, and fruit cut out of block-printed cotton chintz, reassembled, and stitched to the ground fabric. The technique of cutting chintz motifs and using them for appliqué is often known today by the name "Broderie Perse," or "Persian Embroidery." The ground of this counterpane, a woven quilted textile called "Marseilles quilting," is an unusual choice for an appliquéd bedcover. The textile was purchased by the yard and seamed together prior to the appliqué process. Unlike a true quilt, this bedcover was not layered with batting or hand quilted. The center panel depicting a bowl of fruit was printed in England about 1815 and was intended for use on appliquéd quilts; it appears at the center of a number of other American quilts. The printed border fabric was not limited to use in quilts; it could have been used to make matching bed or window curtains.

Often cited for the technical excellence of her appliquéd counterpanes in which even the most delicate stems are carefully turned under and blind stitched, Achsah Goodwin Wilkins had the expert help of African-American stitchers. Her grand-daughter reported that Achsah was sickly and had a skin condition that prevented her from working with the needle. She enlisted female African-American servants to hand stitch the appliqué motifs, which Achsah had first designed and pinned in place. Indeed, the 1820 census shows that two free African-American females lived in the Wilkins household at that time. This stunning bed cover tells the story of two worlds living and working side by side in Baltimore.

Achsah Goodwin Wilkins was an influential figure in the early development of Baltimore appliquéd quilts. Credited with at least ten counterpanes using similar materials and appliqué technique, Achsah was noted not only for the artistry of her designs but also for her organizational skills as the spearhead and supervisor of quilting groups within her adopted Methodist church. Achsah was married in Baltimore to Dr. William Wilkins, Jr. in 1794. She was widowed around 1832 and lived more than twenty years after her husband's death.