Friday, February 18, 2011

Still Another of History's Mysteries

There is something wonderful and magical about finding a quilt that presents a number of mysteries and then researching to see what we can learn about its history.
Whoever would have thought when I went to view this quilt for a possible appraisal for it to be donated to a museum that it would have led to such a fantastic adventure for all of those involved, and also that I would have made four new friends because of it who will probably be my friends for life. I hope that you will understand if I don't provide a lot of names involved with this quilt as I want to overall respect the privacy of the family. It is now published in some work the family is doing, so they don't mind it being talked about generally.
This quilt is called the Pratt family quilt, and it came from a town in Massachusetts. Family members all signed the quilt, and it is dated, and they not only signed it, but wrote sayings on each block, a practice of the times. The owner and her friend who was visiting her (their children are married) had both worked on the genealogy of the piece extensively when I met them. I was so intrigued by the piece, and also so interested in learning more about the genealogy of the piece that I decided to go with them to visit my good friend of many years, Don Beld, an amazing quilt historian. I wanted him to see it too and see if he might have anything to add about its provenance.
This story could easily become a book because so many things began to happen because of this. We did take the quilt to show and so some new friendships began to form all the way around.  And then Don, who is working with another certified appraiser, Pam Weeks, on a book about quilts from the Sanitary Commission that came into being during the Civil War, began to think there might be a relationship of the quilt with the Sanitary Commission in some way, though he clearly believed the quilt itself was not made to benefit that Commission.  And as the owner and her friend continued to do their own research, sure enough, some letters written by one of the signers of the quilt mentioned the Sanitary Commission more than once.
The quilt was made possibly by one member of the family, and the family all signed it. I do believe it was probably not only made but also quilted by just the one person because the handwork is all so consistent and well done. And then apparently after it was made, or perhaps before the blocks were put together, the signatures and sayings were put on. Over this long period of time, we have come to know a lot about the genealogy of the family, but we still are not clear on the intent of the quilt.  It seems to have been a gift to the one lady who quilted it, but as to the occasion, we are still uncertain.
But the research we all ended up getting involved with in one way or another, and the friendships that have come about as a result of it are just priceless.  And in my mind, what an adventure it has been to keep researching and learning new facts as we go along. Sort of like it was when I was working in archeology as we would start out on a project and then new things would be uncovered, or new information, and sometimes things we had believed would turn out to be incorrect, but the new things we learned were even more exciting.
Some day I may be able to report more about this. In the meantime, I will tell you that the owner of the quilt then introduced me to a mother and daughter who also had some quilts for me to look at.  I went there and spent some quality time with them, not doing any appraisal, but studying and looking at the quilt, and helping them to solve some of history's mysteries.  And in the end, we have all become the best of friends.  I just spent some quality time with one of the ladies at a museum exhibit of antique clothing from the 1770s to the 1880s, and it was just the best day. One of the other ladies came to help me get home after cataract surgery and she filled my home with such good meals to eat for the time while I was recovering.  We all exchanged Christmas presents and as I noted, this goes way beyond appraising a quilt (something that still is pending and I might even have another fellow appraiser do the work for them when the time is right).
It is so typical with the discovery of antique or ethnic textiles that you never know where your discovery will take you. It is always a wondrous journey.

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