Quilting Gallery Blog

Milwaukee Art Museum and the “American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection” Exhibit

Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Margery Newman as she shares with us the new Milwaukee Art Museum and quilts from the "American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection" exhibit. Thanks Margery for sharing this fabulous exhbit with us.

I had the great pleasure of leaving my home in what some people this summer are calling the Baked Apple (NYC) for a day, and heading out to Milwaukee where I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum and the exhibition "American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection". The show is on until September 6.

I was excited to see selections from one of the finest collections of early American quilts when my car pulled up to the Museum and I beheld the jaw-dropping futuristic architecture.

Milwaukee Art Museum

And inside, the museum was just as stunning! That’s Lake Michigan you see out the window.

Milwaukee Art Museum

In the Museum lobby, the signage for the exhibition shows a detail of an appliqué counterpane quilt by an unknown maker from around 1800-1825. It’s influenced by Indian palampores (a type of hand-painted and mordant-dyed bed cover made for export) and features birds and a butterfly cut from fabrics printed by John Hewson, a Philadelphia calico printer who learned his trade in London.


Here’s the quilt in its full vibrant glory depicting a tree in flower with curling branches and heart-shaped leaves. It’s so unique and feels to me like the tree of life. (Photo credit: Maker unknown, Appliqué counterpane, 1800–25. Cotton, 100 x 92 in. Courtesy, Winterthur, Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. Samuel Pettit in memory of his wife, Sally Pettit)


Mel Buchanan, an assistant curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum and one of the organizers of "American Quilts", showed me some of her favorite pieces among the more than 40 objects of beauty and fine art. She pointed out the Quaker quilt in a starburst style that was made by Rebecca Scattergood Savery in 1827 for a marriage that sadly never took place because a split in the Quaker church divided the two families into different religious camps. There are 6,708 patches of printed cotton in this stunning quilt that shows an artist’s eye for color play, patterning and abstraction.


(Photo credit: Rebecca Scattergood Savery, Pieced quilt, 1827. Top: cotton; backing: cotton, 132 x 128 in. Courtesy, Winterthur, Museum purchase with funds provided by the estate of Mrs. Samuel Pettit and additional funds by Mr. Samuel Pettit in memory of his wife)

This shot gives an idea of the scale of the quilts and the top-notch installation. The quilt on the right was made by Fanny Johnson McPherson between 1835 and 1850. She was the granddaughter of the first governor of Maryland and a cousin to the wife of John Quincy Adams.


Here’s a detail from a wholecloth quilt that was used by Henry Francis du Pont. It shows American presidents and features an encircled Andrew Jackson. Winterthur Museum & Country Estate in Delaware is du Pont’s former home. He was one of the 20th century’s most avid antique collectors and horticulturists. Quilts were one of his obsessions and many of the rare textiles of the late 1700s and early 1800s featured in this exhibition were collected by du Pont himself.


A detail from Martha Agry Vaughn’s quilt (ca. 1805) made of fascinating and rare fabrics like dress silks, cotton velvet printed with silver spangles evokes memories of glamour and party dresses.


Here are some more views of the exhibition:

Milwaukee exhibit

Milwaukee exhibit

This is a detail from the oldest quilt on view. Dating from the 17th century, the color is actually a bright goldenrod yellow.


This detail of a mosaic-pieced cotton bedcover of beautifully stitched hexagons by Sarah Moon Cadbury Cash was made in England, but was given to her American great-nieces when they visited from Philadelphia.

hexagons quilt

I thought this miniature bed (1800-1825), complete with its original quilt, hangings, mattress, bolster and pillows, was charming, and gave insight into early American bedrooms.

miniature bed quilt

The amazing works in "American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection" document the lives of their creators – from making political statements to celebrating marriages – while providing a glimpse into the birth of the American textile industry. Through skillful needlework and careful color coordination, the quilt makers transformed an array of fabrics, both common and exotic, into extraordinary works of art. Yes, the quilts engage graphic patterning and subtle color harmony, but they also tell stories from popular literature and politics, or feature individual scraps of fabric that travelled from far off places as part of the global economy.

It’s worth a trip to Milwaukee to see the show and the Museum, but if you can’t make it, you might want to check out the book "Quilts in a Material World" , by Linda Eaton, a 208-page hardcover that provides a rare opportunity to view the strengths of the Winterthur quilt collection.

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This post was published on July 29th, 2010. Post topics: Guest Bloggers, Quilt Gallery, Quilting Events. Post tags: .

2 Responses to “Milwaukee Art Museum and the “American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection” Exhibit”

  1. Jennifer says:

    WOW, that tree is stunning! The sunburst is a lot to take in, reminds me so much of the magic eye pictures I’ve seen in books. Amost 7,000 pieces! Wow, Ms. Savery put a lot into that quilt. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  2. janet says:

    Oh Wow!!! this is the best guest blogger post ever!!!! Thanks so much – pictures almost give you the feeling that you are there. My creative juices are flowing now!!!

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