Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cut Out Chintz: Swags in Rococo Style

Cut out chintz quilt with inked inscription
"A. G. Wilkins 1820 / M. D. Davis 1890”

This bedcover, chintz appliqued to a machine-woven Marseilles spread, is attributed to Achsah Goodwin Wilkins of Baltimore. In the 1940s her granddaughter Mary Dorsey Davis talked to William Rush Dunton about family memories of Achsah, who had a chronic skin disease. Achsah's daughter had written a memory of her:

"She most frequently  beguiled her weary hours of sickness by designing and laying out fancy spreads in which she displayed beautiful taste . . . . I, as well as many of her descendants, have choice specimens of her handiwork which we prize highly.”

This photo from Dr. Dunton's book is NOT the Smithsonian's quilt but a
similar design supervised by Achsah Wilkins.

Achsah Wilkins's designs show how the curves and cartouches popular for rococo decor influenced quilt composition and style.

Rococo design abhored a straight line.

Marylanders had access to many European goods through the port of Baltimore but by the turn of the 19th century Baltimore boasted domestic workshops producing luxury goods done in the latest design ideas.

Pier table attributed to Baltimore's Finlay furniture shop.

Read more about Baltimore's painted and gilded furniture here:

Detail of the Smithsonian's quilt

Achsah Wilkins did not sew and her family said that black women actually stitched the quilts she designed. As Dr. Dunton wrote:

"this group of quilts and coverlets had been made under her direction by a group of young colored girls, possibly slaves, who had been trained by her."

Marylanders held slaves until the Civil War. The 1830 Census at the home of Baltimore's William G. Wilkins counted 2 slaves and 3 free blacks (1 female slave and 1 male slave, both ages 10 to 24 and 3 free black men from 10 to over 55.) Because the census did not list names aside from heads of household and because we do not know if Achsah's husband's middle initial was G. we cannot be sure that this is her household.

When we consider slave-made quilts we have to include those attributed to Achsah.

In his 1945 book Old Quilts Dr. William Rush Dunton pictured 13 similar Baltimore quilts in black and white, most of which had descended among Achsah's daughters.

I've found three color pictures of her quilts. One is the Smithsonian's.
See textile dealer Jan Whitlock's web site for this one, pictured in the Dunton book in plate 76, where it is attributed to Achsah and owned at the time by Mrs. Jacob Baer, her granddaughter.

Dena Katzenberg's 1981 catalog of an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art she showed another coverlet attributed to Achsah Wilkins, this loaned by a great-granddaughter Mrs. Eric Lassotovitch.

 It is in plate 73 on the right here. Plate 71 is almost identical.

What a workshop Achsah had going!

Below more chintz quilts that would look up-to-date in a rococo room.

Charlton Hall Auction offered this quilt
attributed to Lavinia Eason, collection of Jennie Dreher

Detail showing the scrolls in the fabric and swags in the border.

Michigan State University owns this quilt that was once attributed to Abigail Adams although that is very unlikely. See more about it here:

Here's a quilt made in Maryland by Jane Knox Bitzel, #2008.040.003 in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum:
Quite similar to Dr. Dunton's plate 88 attributed to Achsah Wilkins.
Read my post about rococo design here:


suzanne said...

Were all of Achsha Wilkins' quilts done on Marseilles quilt backgrounds? Have you seen that combination, applique added to a Marseilles quilt, before? The number of similar quilts made for family reminds me of the number of similar quilts made by fellow Marylander Anna Catherine Hummel Markey Garnhart. I suspected Anna Catherine of having help from slaves, but the censuses indicate otherwise. That doesn't mean she didn't use help that she paid but didn't own though. Both women may have known the "That's very nice! Where's mine?" syndrome familiar to many Aunts and Grandmothers.

Willy Wonky said...

I may have unwittingly discovered another one of these quilts. Still waiting for it to arrive, but I blogged about it here:

Merikay Waldvogel sent me a note, saying it looked like one in Dr. Dunton's book. When it arrives I will get a full view picture of it. How exciting it would be if it was a match.