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Quilt Top, Appliqued Trees and Animals

1936
Origin: America, probably Baltimore, Maryland
Overall: 165.7 x 198.8cm (65 1/4 x 78 1/4in.)
Cottons, Rayons
Museum Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. Fund
Acc. No. 2015.609.8
Rectangular quilt top with 20 appliqued squares (5 across by 4 down) featuring trees, animals, an airplane, an automobile, and a standing figure in fur cap, all worked with printed and plain cottons and rayons. Each square is centered with an 8 or 9-branch tree with 8 or 9 multicolored patterned rosette flowers forming the foliage. Around and in each tree are animals, birds, insects, and fish in a pond in a variety of scales. One square features an eagle with the letters N. R. A., for the National Recovery Administration. Another square has a standing man in western dress and a fur cap with tail, (probably Daniel Boone). Appliqued motifs are turned under and slip-stitched; some motifs have additional embroidered details worked in chain and buttonhole stitches. Outer edges have strips of printed and patterned textiles pieced together to form a border all around.
Label:This lively quilt was purchased from an African-American family living in Baltimore, Maryland. The motifs include the date of 1936 among the leaves of a tree. The eagle with the letters NRA refers to the National Recovery Act, a law passed in 1933 to stimulate business and aid workers by setting industrial codes and guidelines. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1935.

Besides the NRA eagle, the quilt maker added a variety of animals and plants, the patterns possibly taken from children’s books or outline embroidery patterns commercially available at the time. The maker used a multi-branch tree as the unifying element at the center of each square. The distinctive trees have their foliage made up of colorful flower blossoms. In addition to animals and insects cavorting at the base of the trees or flying in the skies above, animals are hidden in the trees: cats, squirrels, a skunk, a three-toed animal that might be a tree frog, a salamander, a bat, and an upside-down red-headed woodpecker. The outer borders are made from strips of cotton and rayon dress materials pieced together.

The quilt top combines the techniques of piecing, appliqué, and embroidery. The appliquéd figures are cut from colorful fabrics and fastened to the ground squares by having their raw edges turned under and carefully stitched in place. The quilt was never finished with a batting or a backing.
Provenance:Baltimore family, possibly descended from Joshua Johnson
Eugene Rapapport
Private collection in Pittsburg
Hill Gallery