Saturday, June 8, 2013

Susannah Pullen's Quilt

Soldier's Aid Society quilt
 Organized by Susannah Corey Pullen (1816-1871)
Augusta Maine

Susannah Pullen's Civil War quilt is in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, donated in 1936. We might recognize it as a Civil War quilt because of the way it is constructed ---block-by-block with bound edges, what we call potholder quilts today.

The reverse of the quilt shows the binding around each block

which is harder to see on the front.

When Susannah's granddaughter donated the quilt she sent a file of paperwork, with two letters
from soldiers, one dated Nov. 22, 1863:

 "Dear Madam I have had the pleasure of seeing the beautiful 'Quilt' sent by you to cheer and comfort the Maine Soldiers. I have read the mottoes, sentiments, etc., inscribed thereon with much pleasure and profit."

There are no mottoes inscribed on the quilt today. There is nothing visible on the quilt in the photos---but the contradiction is explained in the museum catalog's last paragraph. The quilt was on public display in the Augusta public library for many years. The front was covered with inked inscriptions and must have made an entertaining exhibit. But the light faded the ink (or perhaps time changed the ink's chemistry) and the inking is gone.

One inscription read:
“The commencement of this war took place Apr. 12th 1861. The first gun was fired from Fort Sumter. God speed the time when we can tell when, and where, the last gun was fired; & ‘we shall learn war no more.’ If this quilt survives the war we would like to have it returned to Mrs. Gilbert Pullen, Augusta, Me . . . This quilt completed Sept. 1st 1863.” 

Susannah Pullen invited letters from soldiers in another inscription:
"We have many dear friends connected with the army & any proper letters from any persons embraced in the defense of our country, received by any whose names are on this quilt shall have a reply. Tell us if nothing more its destination. We meet with many others to sew for you every Wednesday and your letters would prompt us to more exertions for our patriots."

Another of the over 150 inscriptions:
"If you are good looking send me your photograph. Direct to the name in the large square. E.G.D."

Before the years of exhibition faded the inscriptions completely, someone transcribed all of them.

The next time a possible museum donor requests that you keep her quilt on permanent display you might direct her to the National Museum of American History's page on this quilt. It's a cautionary tale.

Read much more about the quilt in Virginia Eisemon's, "Sunday School Scholars Quilt: Civil War Textile Document," Uncoverings: 2004, The Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, Volume 25


suzanne said...

Re this quilt's design, I'm intrigued by the idea of making all the stars in a sort of neutral solid fabric throughout, but scattering different print backgrounds among the blocks, sometimes almost making the star disappear. Could be done with a very modern look. Thanks for the idea!

Re exposure to light, the same advice you gave applies at home. Don't leave a quilt or other fabric piece out on display top long, especially if exposed to light coming through a window. I speak from personal experience.

WoolenSails said...

I love the idea of making a quilt block, by block and doing the quilting on each one, then putting it together. With all of the new types of trims, it would be a nice way to top it off to cover the seam lines.


cam said...

what a sad trip this quilt had to make.

Unknown said...

Dear Barbara
We are two Danish women WHO - this august - publishes a book about what happened to cotton during the American Civil War. We affect issues such as the Industrial Revolution, slaves, north / south and war development, condition of women during the war, etc. All this accompanied by photographs of about 40 of our quilts made ​​in the 1800-century reproduction fabrics, patterns and blocks, of which there are recipes for the 16 quilts. For the book we are in lack of a picture of a quiltingbee or quiltingparty taken around 1850-1870. Do you know whether there are any pictures of this kind and where possible to turn in order to borrow one? Thanks in advance.
Filippa Gårdbo

v eisemon said...

Barbara, a couple years ago special photography was done on the Susannah Pullen quilt. All of the inscriptions were made visible and a record photo exists of each inscription. Virginia