Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

February 1, 1995

Baltimore Album Quilt Lecture March 16

The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress will present a free illustrated lecture with slides of Baltimore album quilts by Jennifer Goldsborough, Chief Curator at the Maryland Historical Society, on Thursday, March 16, from noon to 1:15 p.m. in the Mumford Room, sixth floor, Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE. The lecture is presented in celebration of National Women's History Month.

Nineteenth century American quilts are famous for their inventiveness and beauty. The exquisite album quilts made in Baltimore between about 1845 and 1855, for example, sometimes carry price tags of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of the designs and colors on Baltimore album quilts have symbolic content that may be deciphered today as references to specific social, religous, or political organizations, or as coded clues to beliefs or emotions.

Quilts have been a subject of study for modern folklorists as well as art historians for a number of years. Recent research by the curatorial staff at the Maryland Historical Society demonstrates that Baltimore album quilts may provide revelations about the lives of 19th century American women. The study of the quilts themselves, combined with related period documentary research, has led to new discoveries about the education of women, their opportunities for public self-expression, the amount of leisure time and disposable income available to them, and their political, religious, and social affiliations.

Until the Maryland Historical Society's study of Baltimore album quilts, late 20th century quilt historians had concentrated largely on the stories of quilts found in the Middle and Far West, leaving the innovative and influential quilts of the East Coast largely unexplored. The study concluded that the lives of urban East Coast women around 1850 had much in common with the lives of women of today.

The development of the Baltimore album quilt type, unique to central Maryland and made during a remarkably brief period, depended upon the interaction of large numbers of women of English and German heritage in an area where quantities of expensive imported fabrics and locally made textiles were readily available. Most Baltimore album quilts were made as gifts to men and depict such masculine occupations as butcher, farmer, and sailor, as well as the insignias of such men's organizations as volunteer fire companies, Masonic Lodges, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Some Baltimore album quilts were designed by one artist, with the applique and quilting work then done by a single needlewoman. However, most of these quilts were team efforts, with different women working as designers, appliquers, and quilters to provide a variety of squares from which the term album derives.

Women turned to those sources that were most available and most important to them for design inspiration. Research by Ms. Goldsborough identified period samplers and young women's watercolored album pages, the patterns on imported textiles, engraved illustrations in books and printer's woodcuts in newspapers, and even the decorations on imported Staffordshire transfer-printed dishes as the origins of many Baltimore album quilt designs. This presentation will explore not only the beauty and technical mastery of Baltimore album quilts, but will demonstrate how such artifacts may be "read" as documents of their era.

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PR 95-016
ISSN 0731-3527

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