Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Texas Secession Quilt?

This Lone Star quilt was recently offered in an online auction, advertised as:
"Sumner County, Tennessee Civil War era quilt in the 'Lone Star' pattern, made by Mary Jane Harris Pond in 1861 to commemorate Texas joining the Confederacy."

What a great  story! But I doubt it's accuracy.

It is indeed a Lone Star quilt. I am concerned about the estimated date of 1861---and thus the link with Texas secession. The pattern, a single star of diamonds floating in a background, could certainly be that old. But the fabrics are wrong for that date.

Which gives me an opportunity to analyze my intuitive impression as to why it couldn't be that old.

It looks like it's cotton --- not very high quality cotton as we can see by the fading in the blue background.

Three things jump out at me. One is the faded blues (darker blues in the star's points are also fading.) Another is the medium-brown plain fabrics in the diamonds.The last is the use of plain cottons rather than prints.

Late 19th-century, North Carolina quilt from the Taylor Family

The plain blue in the quilt above is fading from light or perhaps bleach
Many of the quilts here are from the Quilt Index. Others from online auctions.

I've been collecting photos of post-Civil-War Southern quilts. See a post on more style characteristics here.

1) There were two basic blue dyes for cotton in 1861. Indigo and Prussian blue. Indigo, a vegetable dye, does not fade like this but Prussian blue, a mineral dye, might (Laundry alkalies were hard on Prussian blue). By 1880 there were many other blue dyes available---synthetics that were quite unreliable.  The blues often faded to shades of gray.

Tennessee quilt by Mary Clift Hall Dunning, estimated to date from the
 last quarter of the 19th century
The  grid quilting is also similar to the Lone Star quilt.

The blue in the quilt in question looks like a synthetic dye---the way the dye remains sunk in the quilting stitches and the way it's blotched. Synthetic dyes with their characteristic fading were not available until about 1880 in the U.S.

Quilt from an Arkansas family. 
Did all those white triangles used to be green?
This is an extreme example of a probable synthetic dye fading completely away.

2) The plain brown cotton is very typical of Southern quilts, such as might be made in Tennessee or North Carolina---But made after the Civil War rather than during the Civil War. The brown, which can tend towards red or green, was popular with Southern quilters decades after the Civil War.
Star block design made by Eliza Longworth, North Carolina.

My guess is that the plain brown was one of the inexpensive cottons that new Southern mills specialized in after 1870 or so. It was cheap and rather mediocre in color, fastness and weave, but Southern quilters developed a distinctive and dramatic style around plain-colored, locally manufactured cloth....

String quilt of solid browns and woven checks & stripes.
About 1910.

Center of a  Lone Star quilt dated 1879 with browns and yellow solids....

Making the best of a bad situation as far as access to quiltmaking fabrics

3) Which brings us to the last style characteristic in the Pond star quilt: All plain colors. The South did not invest in fabric manufacturing mills until after the Civil War. 

Photographer Lewis Hines documented American mills in the
early 20th century. The Inverness Mills were in Virginia.

Women working at a mill in Lumberton, North Carolina.
Hines's photos of mills North & South are in the Library of Congress.

Without skilled printers the local mills relied on dyed cottons, either plain-colored or dyed-in-the-yarn and woven into stripes and plaids. Calicoes continued to be a Northern specialty for decades.

 Smithy Pennington, North Carolina

Quilt signed and dated 1890 J.H. Latham, North Carolina

The solid red, synthetically-dyed fabric above is extremely fugitive but the chrome orange holds up well. This is one of the very few date-inscribed examples of the plain cloth, Southern-style quilt I've seen.

Detail of a Rocky Mountain or Crown of Thorns quilt from Tennessee's
Bingham family.

Throwing in a little local chrome orange was brilliant.

Very few of these vivid quilts are date-inscribed but experienced quilt historians, dealers and appraisers tend to date the style as 1875-1900.

Which is when I think Mary Jane Pond's quilt was made and probably late in the 19th century if not the early 20th.

The sale text gives us a little information about Mary Jane herself.
"Mary Jane Harris Pond, daughter of Green Berry Harris and second wife of Captain William Guthrie Pond, CSA. According to family history, Mrs. Pond made the quilt for her brother in 1861."
I tried to do  genealogical research on Mary Jane and her husband.  But those lists of names and numbers are far more complicated and not nearly as interesting as fabrics and style. I couldn't find any credible Mary Harris Pond.

So I hope you didn't bid on the Lone Star for the Civil War story. What you got was a very nice late-19th-century or early-20th-century Tennessee quilt. Just don't hang it in the sun.

I spent several hours going through the Quilt Index and the quilts recorded in Tennessee & North Carolina. There are some great ones---early and late.
Go to the search page
Scroll down to State Made and scroll to Tennessee or North Carolina.

Star quilt by Grandmother Allen, Tennessee.
Last quarter of the 19th century.

UPDATE: 3-1/2 years later Cindy Stuart found a credible maker: Mary Jane "Mae" Harris Pond (1835-1901) of Sumner County, Tennessee. Mae lived into the 20th century so could have made the Lone Star at the end of the 19th or shortly before her death at 65.

1 comment:

Wendy Caton Reed said...

Elementary my dear Watson. Great job Sherlock!