Appliqué (Peruvian, Rimac, A.D. 1000–1476)

Appliqué (Peruvian, Rimac, A.D. 1000–1476). Cotton single interlock, dovetailed, and slit tapestry. MFA purchase from G. R. Schmidt, Anglo-South American Trust Co., 49 Broadway, New York, New York, September 3, 1931 (31.710). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This fish tapestry appliqué is alternatively identified as a votive panel in Animal Myth and Magic: Images from Pre-Columbian Textiles by Vanessa Drake Moraga. The panel, dating to 1000-1476 A.D., has 26 finished sides and is emblematic of highly skilled technical abilities: possessed not only by the virtuosic weaver, but by the dyer who achieved deep browns, gold and blue tones in cotton. Cotton is comprised of a cellulose structure that makes it more resistant to dyes, in contrast to camelid fiber (hair) which is protein, and more readily accepting of coloration. The resulting details articulate the defining characteristics of the Pacific bonito (Sarda chiliensis), a fish that thrives along the edge of the Humbolt current where it meets warmer coastal waters. Moraga writes:

The bonito’s striped, torpedo-shaped body, joined by a narrow bridge to a lunate tail, is accurately delineated here; but it is the multiple dorsal and anal finlets, and the long line of the mouth reaching back to the eye, that clinch the identification and confirm the weaver’s powers of observation.”

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt (American, late 19th century)

Pieced and quilted cotton plain weave, embroidered with cotton yarns. Frank B. Bemis Fund and with funds donated anonymously (2012.170). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to share a quilt in our collection that mirrors American patriotic values and ideals shared by ~300 individuals living in the late 1800s. Their names, embroidered in red and white threads within upstanding vertical stripes of a re-imagined American flag, include Susan B. Anthony, a pivotal figure in the 19th century movement for women’s rights. I like to think that as we honor American service members who died for our country, we can be inspired by their ultimate sacrifice to carry within ourselves seeds of resistance to the forces that prevent access and opportunity for all people.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt: Pieced Civil War era (American, 1862)

By Catherine Fisher, Muskingum, Adams County, Ohio. Printed cotton plain weave, pieced and quilted. Mary S. and Edward J. Holmes Fund, Frank B. Bemis Fund, Elizabeth M. and John F. Paramino Fund in memory of John F. Paramino, Boston Sculptor, Helen B. Sweeney Fund, Textile Income Purchase Fund, Mary L. Smith Fund, Joyce Arnold Rusoff Fund, and Alice J. Morse Fund (2013.74). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

My immersion in a quilt project continues to inspire curiosity about the many wonderful quilts in our collection. I chose to feature this one because the soft, muted colors call to mind the burgeoning spring blossoms and foliage that we are so grateful to see as spring takes hold in the Northeast!

The pattern of this quilt is called “Wild Goose Chase,” named after the wedge-shaped triangles inspired by the seasonal migrations of geese. This pattern lends itself to numerous variations, and quilt makers were able to express their artistic abilities and creativity in the way they arranged the triangles and by the color palettes they chose. This quilt, made by Catherine Fisher in Ohio during the Civil War era, is another fine example that the MFA acquired from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt: Feathered Diamond (American, 1890s)

Pennsylvania, Landis Valley (Lancaster). Pieced cotton plain weave top, printed cotton plain weave back; quilted. Frank B. Bemis Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Elizabeth M. and John F. Paramino Fund in memory of John F. Paramino, Boston Sculptor, Helen B. Sweeney Fund, Mary L. Smith Fund, Textile Income Purchase Fund, Joyce Arnold Rusoff Fund, and Alice J. Morse Fund (2014.1858). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The “feathered,” or “sawtooth” piecework along the edges of the diamond and framing square of this quilt, a composition that repeats with variation in many Amish quilts (see Framed Diamond in a Square), adds to the vibratory interaction between two complementary colors of equal intensity. With the development of synthetic dyes during the third quarter of the 19th century, by the late 1880s and 1890s textile manufacturers were producing a greater variety of bright and colorfast fabrics such as the richly saturated green and pink cotton used on this quilt. This Featured Diamond quilt was acquired from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection and shown in the 2014 exhibition, Quilts and Color at the MFA, Boston. Collectors Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy, influenced by the color theories of Josef Albers and the modernist art movement, saw these quilts as embodying the same types of creative choices and thought processes made by women who sought to express themselves within the confines of social acceptance and religious belief in their conservative communities.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt: Framed Diamond in a Square (American, Amish, about 1890)

Pennsylvania, Lancaster County. Pieced wool twill top, cotton plain weave back, wool twill binding; quilted. Museum purchase with funds donated by Hanne and Jeremy Grantham, Jane and Robert Burke, an anonymous donor, Jane Pappalardo, Lynne and Mark Rickabaugh, Carol Wall, Heidi Nitze, Ruth Oliver Jolliffe, and Mrs. Robert B. Newman, and funds by exchange from anonymous gifts, a Bequest of Miss Ellen Starkey Bates, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Gift of the Estate of Annie B. Coolidge, Gift of Mrs. John Dane, Gift of Louis H. Farlow, Alfred Greenough Collection, Gift of M. M. Greer, Gift of Mrs. Chester A. Hoefer, James Fund, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Harold Karlin, Gift of Miss Mildred Kennedy, Gift of Francis Stewart Kershaw, Gift of Mrs. Bliss Knapp, Gift of Mathias Komor, The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, Gift of Miss Louise M. Nathurst, Gift of Mrs. George N. Northrop, and Gift of Mrs. Albertine W. F. Valentine, residuary legatee under the will of Hervey E. Wetzel (2011.90). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This Framed Diamond in a Square on point quilt was among five Amish quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection carefully selected for the Museum by collector Gerald Roy at a time when the department of Textile and Fashion Arts was seeking to increase the depth and range of its 19th century quilts. This classic example is an early one from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a region distinguished by quilters who chose to adopt a limited repertoire of pattern types and variations that remained fixed, even as color, fabric and quality and quantity of needlework were changeable over time. Working within the constraints of what fabrics were available and which colors were socially acceptable within the community, Amish women were able to express their individuality by employing color, design, and needlework to create quilts with strong visual impact. Amish quilts became popular in the 1960s and 1970s when the color theories of Josef Albers and color field painting were gaining influence.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt: Field of Diamonds (American, about 1860)

Pieced wool plain weave and twill (some printed), glazed cotton plain weave back, wool plain weave binding; quilted. Frank B. Bemis Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Elizabeth M. and John F. Paramino Fund in memory of John F. Paramino, Boston Sculptor, Helen B. Sweeney Fund, Mary L. Smith Fund, Textile Income Purchase Fund, Joyce Arnold Rusoff Fund, and Alice J. Morse Fund (2014.1862). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

For the simple reason that I am sewing a quilt for my daughter, my curiosity about quilts in our collection has been ignited. The animated tour de force shown here is one of my favorites. I first saw it in the 2014 MFA exhibition Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection, a true celebration of the power of color, and a testament to the creative ways makers utilized color to create many varieties of quilts that stir the soul and dazzle the eye.

Gerald E. Roy and his partner, the late Paul Dwight Pilgrim (1942-1996), both trained as artists, began collecting quilts that they perceived as mirroring Josef Albers’ color theories. To their eye, these quilts went beyond their essential function as decorative objects created to provide comfort and warmth. In the Collector’s Preface to the book that accompanied the exhibition, Roy speaks about the criteria that guided their collecting choices:

We resolved to pursue collecting quilts that we found exciting and challenging, those that reflected unique and personal approaches to color and design, or what we called “the mark of the maker”…We were not counting stitches and checking to see if points were accurate. As long as the workmanship did not detract from the overall appeal, the quilt was a candidate; however, we never compromised on condition. No matter how wonderful it had once been, it was not coming home. We also never purchased a quilt without judging its visual appeal by viewing it from twenty paces away. As we continued to collect individual patterns and fill chronological gaps, we ultimately acquired more than fifteen hundred examples.”

The Museum’s acquisitions of nineteenth century pieced quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection began in the year 2008 and continues to the present, immeasurably increasing the depth, quality and range of our holdings. These collectors, as passionate about the historic importance of the quilts they collected as well as their visual impact, have enhanced our ability to tell the story of quilt making through the ages. Expect to see more over the coming weeks!

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department