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Pieced and Appliqued Quilt, African American

1901
Origin: America, Georgia, DeKalb County
72" x 66 3/4" (Right side: 72"; Left side: 73"; Top: 67"; Bottom: 66 3/4")
Cottons
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1996.609.1
Rectangular quilt pieced and appliqued from printed, checked, and solid cottons. The quilt is composed of twenty blocks pieced together. Sixteen of the blocks measure about 16-inches square. An additional row of 4 rectangles (each measuring about 7" x 16") runs across the bottom. Decorating each block (including the rectangular ones) are various appliques, some of being random, abstract shapes, others representing dogs, cats, boys, girls, tea pots, hands, hammers, etc. Every other block has a red-and-white gingham checked ground; nearly every other block bears appliqued letters. The whole is quilted in a "wave" or "clamshell" pattern, with rows of stitching being about 1-inch apart and about 5 stitches per inch. The backing is white cotton. A white cotton binding secures the top, right side, and bottom of the quilt but was not sewn on the left side.
Label:Names Quilt; made by Dora Smith; DeKalb County, Georgia; 1901; pieced and appliquéd cottons; 73" x 67"; 1996.609.1.

African-American quiltmaker Dora Smith incorporated words, the names of her children, and her own initials inside circles on the quilt blocks, which spell out CATS, DOGS, LIZA, AMOS, RUTH, TOBY, BOYS, GIRLS, and DS. Additional appliquéd motifs are taken from everyday life, including human figures, scissors, stars, moon, a handprint, a kettle, and an eye. Many of the motifs echo traditional African designs and symbols. Smith's technique and designs bear a resemblance to those of the more famous quiltmaker, Harriet Powers, also from northern Georgia.
Provenance:The date and name of the maker were supplied by James Allen, whose 8-15-96 invoice states that the quilt comes from "a black family in Decatur, DeKalb County Georgia. The maker's name is Dora Smith." According to Allen, he purchased the quilt over 20 years ago from a dealer who had bought it from another dealer who had bought it from the maker, Dora Smith, in Decatur, Ga. A later note from Allen (7/5/96) says the quilter lived in DeKalb County, Ga. The "1901" date may be based on not only word of mouth but also on the embroidered inscription in block 4e that appears to read "01".
Mark(s):Appliqued letters in various blocks spell out the following: in the top row, first block to the left (block la) is the word "CATS"; in block 3a "DOGS"; in block 2b "LIZA"; in block 4b "AMOS"; in block 1c "RUTH"; in block 3c "TOBY"; in block 2d "BOYS"; in block 4d "GIRL"; and in block 4e "DS" (maker's initials). In the last-listed block, black embroidery threads also form two digits "O (1?)"