This object is a quilt, made in the 1950s, in the African- American tradition of quilt-making. An appraiser from Antiques Roadshow was able to identify it based on the style, construction, and materials used. It appears to be hand-quilted and pieced, assembled in the strip construction technique, in which strips of scrap fabric were sewn together to create a pattern.
African textile traditions have not been well-documented in comparison to other types of folk art, however, it is thought that their origins can be traced back to four civilizations of Central and West Africa. In Africa, most textiles were made by men. It wasn’t until African slaves were brought to the United States that women took over the tradition, with work being divided based on Western gender roles.
By the time African-American quilting had become a tradition, it had been combined with traditions from the Caribbean, Central American, and southern United States. However, some distinct characteristics survived, and can still be identified in quilts today. Bold colors, strips of fabric, and symbolism are all dominant features in African-American quilting.
Large shapes and bright colors were used in African tribes to distinguish people from far distances. The ability to identify different warring tribes or hunting parties was crucial to survival. This use of bold colors and oversized shapes has endured in African- American textiles.
Combined with that is a distinct tradition of asymmetrical patterns and improvised designs. There are many reasons for this. The ability to change or alternate the pattern allowed quilters to get the most use of scrap fabrics, as opposed to a repeating pattern, that required specific colors in set quantities.
More importantly, breaks in patterns held great symbolism for African cultures. A break in pattern could symbolize rebirth in the power of the wearer or creator of the quilt. Pattern breaks were also believed to keep away evil. It was believed that evil traveled in a straight line, and by breaking the pattern, evil spirits would become confused and be slowed down. Improvising the patterning also ensured that the pattern could not be copied, and gave the creator and owner and strong sense of ownership and creativity.
Once in the United States, African quilts took on even more meaning. Many women would create story quilts, in which they would applique pictures onto their quilts. By doing this, they could record their family history- like a photo album- or tell a story in pictures. One of the most famous women to create story quilts was a freed slave named Harriet Powers. In 1896, she created an intricately-crafted quilt which she entitled “Bible Quilt”, depicting several Biblical stories. In 1898, she crafted the “Pictorial Quilt”, illustrating three rows of Bible stories, historical events, and significant weather anomalies. The “Pictorial Quilt” now hangs at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and the “Bible Quilt” is housed at the Smithsonian Institution.
Few examples of African- American quilting tradition have survived through the years. They were considered necessities rather than luxuries, and most were worn out. However, men and women of African descent have kept the essence of the traditions alive, and are illustrated in pieces such as this quilt from the 1950s. What was once simply a functional piece of bedding, we know know is artistry to be preserved and celebrated. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
This item is a piece of a Scottish tartan from the MacLean Clan, which is one of the oldest clans in the Scottish Highlands. It consists of green, white, and black patterned lines. Tartans have a long history, not just in Scotland but around the world, where the familiar plaid pattern has been used for centuries. Today we view the tartan pattern as representative of Scotland and their kilts.
Tartans are the patterns of interlocking different colored stripes that run horizontally and vertically, which are known as the warp and weft of the cloth. Tartans are defined as the pattern itself, so it can technically be used to describe the pattern in any form, such as in a digital picture, painting, or print. The earliest tartans can be dated back to the third or fourth century A.D. in Scotland though the pattern can be found as early as 3000 B.C. in other parts of the world. Originally tartan patterns did not have any significance, it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that tartan began to symbolize clan affiliation.
The naming of tartan patterns began after 1765 when the firm William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn began producing and collecting tartan patterns. By 1815 100 tartans had been named and clan chiefs began to gain interest in preserving their history and identifying a pattern that represented their clan. In 1822, King George IV visited Scotland expecting to see the clans present their tartans, this forced many clan leaders to choose or invent new tartans for their clan. Although tartans today are generally thought to represent clans, they can also represent towns, districts, corporations, individuals, and events.
This tartan is connected to the MacLean Clan of Duart Castle. Today the MacLean Clan has more than 10 different tartan patterns registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. The MacLean’s have the prestige of having one of the oldest recorded tartans, which was described as early as 1587. Although it is difficult to know the exact origins of the clan, clan historians trace their ancestors as far back as 1050. Their name itself originated in 13th century when Gilleain na Tuaighe was chief. Maclean literally translates to son of Gilleain.
Today, tartans continue to be made and in the last fifty years have become an increasingly profitable business dominated by a few large mills. The tartan continues to be a representation of Scotland as much as kilts and bagpipes are. People continue to connect their genealogical history to their ancestral clans and the corresponding tartans. Clans continue to meet in reunions in Scotland, and Highland Games around the world to this day. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
This item is a quilt from ca. 1950 obtained from the estate of an African-American family living in the San Antonio area. An appraiser from the Antiques Roadshow verified the date and ethnic origin of the quilt by its style, construction, and materials. The quilt appears to have been made using a “strip construction” technique. Strip construction uses strips of fabric cut and sewn together in bands. This method, combined with the improvisational style, is consistent with African American quilts from the 1950’s.
The origin of quilting in African-American culture is a greatly debated topic. Researchers are unsure what influenced the quilts style. They also question what purpose and function they were made for. The answers are hard to pin down because few quilts from before, during, and shortly after the Civil War survive today. Some scholars suggest that African-American quilts were influenced by traditional African weaving and textile production. In West Africa, men were traditionally the main producers of textiles. However, when enslaved Africans were transported to the United States, women became the principal makers of quilts. Some scholars point to the use of bright colors combined with pattern improvisation, asymmetrical design, and strip banding as proof of African influence in African-American quilting. They claim that strip banding in particular is similar to African weaving. They also suggest that slaves may have hid African designs and religious symbols in the quilts they created in order to preserve their African heritage. However, other scholars say those theories are the result of speculation. Instead, they believe that the time periods as well as the regions the quilts were produced in were the major influences on the design and construction of African-American quilts.
Another controversial topic is whether African-American quilts were used during the Civil War to conceal secret communications. Two historians, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, suggest that a “quilt code” may have been used to assist slaves in navigating the Underground Railroad. According to their theory, a slave seamstress would sew a quilt that contained several patterns for other slaves to memorize. The seamstress would then display different quilts using those patterns to provide information to help people trying to escape. The patterns displayed may have included designs such as a wrench pattern directing them to gather tools, a wagon pattern indicating the need to pack, and a bear claw pattern directing slaves north over the Appalachian Mountains. But no verified “code quilts” exist to this day. Additionally, Tobin and Dobard obtained their information about the quilt code from only one source: an individual descended from slaves. The claims have yet to be corroborated by other individuals or oral histories.
Some of what we do know about early African-American quilting culture was obtained by the WPA during the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal program created to provide work relief. The WPA started the Folklore Project in order to employ out of work writers. They would gather stories from Americans who lived during major historical periods, including former slaves. In the oral histories, prior slaves could recall female family members piecing together quilts out of old clothes and scraps. More information on early African-American quilting can be found in documents about slave life. Both the WPA and written records verify that slaves made quilts for both their masters’ use as well as out of necessity for their own families. What does seem to be apparent about early quilting practices is the importance of quilting parties, or frolics. Quilting parties were integral in allowing slaves to socialize. Informally, female slaves would gather in the evening or on Saturday afternoons to quilt and sew. After the Civil War, quilts were made from scraps of discarded clothing and feed sacks. During the 1920’s, more and more people moved to northern cities to find work in jobs created by increased industrialization. As the years passed, African-American women were able to create quilts for enjoyment as well as need.
In 1966 a group of African-American women in Alabama established the Freedom Quilting Bee, a quilting cooperative. The group began as a way for poor women to provide for their families. It began with 150 quilters who learned their craft from their mothers and grandmothers. They would auction off their work and split the proceeds with their members. The group also provided a support network for the women of their cooperative. Their group is credited with revitalizing the popularity of quilts in American home decor during the 1960’s.
Today, African-American quilts are artistic as well as functional and can be found in both homes and museums. A list of museums that exhibit African-American quilts can be found here. Despite the controversy of its origins and influences, what is clear about the African-American quilting tradition is that it is a mix of cultural influences and traditions that can be seen in quilts made today. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
San Antonio, Texas
Materials: Cloth, Metal
Wedding dresses have been worn by brides for hundreds of years, however a white wedding dress is a fairly new custom. Over time wedding dress styles have changed and not all cultures share the same wedding traditions. This wedding dress was worn by Emma Steubing on her wedding day, December 14, 1912 to Robert Gass. The dress was likely made by a family member or the bride herself, which was common. The dress is an off white color and has lace trimmings throughout. Lace was and still is a popular material used in wedding dresses.
Today in Western culture the traditional color for a wedding dress is white. Queen Victoria is credited for starting the white dress trend in 1840 after her marriage to Albert of Saxe-Coburg . Phillipa of England wore white in in 1406 and Mary Queen of Scots wore white when she married Francis the Dauphine of France in 1559. In France, white was typically the color of mourning for French Queens, but Mary wore white anyway because it was her favorite color.
Before Queen Victoria decided she would wear white to her wedding, the popular color of the time was red. In the 1800s brides would usually wear the best dress they had to their weddings, which were usually a color like red or blue, rather than wear a dress specially made for the occasion. White was rarely used because at that time washing white articles of clothing was difficult. It was then easier to wear a dark colored dress and use it multiple times after. Wearing white was usually just done by the wealthy. However, Queen Victoria also wanted to send a message that she supported domestic commerce using only British made materials, a custom still supported 171 years later at the marriage of Catherine Middleton and Prince William. A few years after Queen Victoria’s wedding a popular lady’s monthly called white “the most fitting hue” for a bride, “an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.” It was after this publication that young women everywhere started shifting their ideas of what a wedding dress should look like.
Although white maybe the popular color to wear in places like the United States, in China the brides usually wear red. The color red symbolizes love and prosperity in Chinese culture. In South Asian cultures a sari is worn during weddings. Sari, which translates to ‘strip of cloth’, is a clothing garment made of a piece of cloth five to nine yards in long and two to four feet in wide. The sari is wrapped around the waist and one end around the shoulder, baring the midriff. The wedding sari was traditionally red with gold and made out of silk but different colors and fabrics are also used today. All around the world wedding dresses and traditions are different, and as time goes by the styles of these wedding dresses change. [Rebecca Gonzalez, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Victoria, and Barry St.-John Nevill. Life at the Court of Queen Victoria, 1861-1901: Illustrated from the Collection of Lord Edward Pelham-Clinton, Master of the Household : with Selections from the Journals of Queen Victoria. Exeter, England: Webb & Bower, 1984.
United States of America
Early 20th Century (1950’s)
Materials: Faux Fur, Cloth, Stuffing
Just as there are human celebrities, there is also animal celebrities. You may have heard of the animal celebrity depicted by this object. This artifact at the Institute of Texan Cultures is a stuffed animal toy from the 1950’s that represents one of the most famous animal stars of all time: Lassie!
Who is Lassie?
Lassie is the name of a fictional character that was created by Eric Knight for his short story “Lassie Come-Home” published in 1940. The story was first published in 1940, and chronicled the journey of a lost dog traveling hundreds of miles across the United Kingdom, sometimes over rough terrain to be reunited with her family. Lassie is portrayed in the book and subsequent media as a rough collie, a herding dog breed known for its loyalty and devotion, intelligence, and long fur. A collie with short fur is known as a smooth collie.
What is Lassie famous for?
“Lassie Come Home” won the prestigious Young Reader’s Choice Award in 1943. That same year, the first film based on the book was released in the United States. A story of Lassie has captured the hearts of children and adults alike and still remains popular, 75 years later. In total there have been eleven films, five live action television shows, three animated television shows, a radio show and even a Japanese manga spin-off. The Lassie character became extremely popular during the original television show titled Lassie which debuted in 1954 and continued until 1973! It was during this time that the name Lassie became a household name.
Due to the immense popularity of the show Lassie memorabilia popped up in the form of books, comics, cards, magazines, clothing, accessories, “autographs” in the form of a paw print, photos and limited edition dog supplies. These items have now become prized collectibles for super-fans of the show and the story. Lassie even has an official fan club that’s still going strong!
Who played the character Lassie?
Though the character of Lassie was a female collie, the dog who portrayed the character was actually a male collie named Pal. Pal lived with his owner and Hollywood dog trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. Pal starred as Lassie in seven franchise movies and two television episodes. When the Lassie show started airing on television in 1954, Pal retired comfortably from show business and was very happy to let his son, Lassie Junior play the part.
Today, the Weatherwax family continues to train Hollywood dogs for show business, and the 10th generation direct descendent of Pal (who is his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson) continues to make public appearances and complete charity work on behalf of the Lassie family as Lassie himself. [Caira Spenrath, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
This tapestry was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Ross S. Sterling of Houston, Texas during the late 1920’s. The tapestry has several images that represent the natural environment of Texas and several scenes from Texas history. The overall concept of the tapestry is based off of a painting of similar proportions that was also commissioned and designed by Mr. and Mrs. Sterling. The painting was completed in New York, but the tapestry was woven in France. When the tapestry was completed it was displayed in the Sterling home in Houston for a number of years.
Ross S. Sterling was born in February of 1875 and served as Governor of Texas from 1931 to 1933. Sterling was involved in several business ventures throughout his life, including the oil industry. In 1910 Sterling founded the Humble Oil Company. It in turn became the parent company of the Humble Oil Corporation and in 1973, the Exxon Corporation. Sterling sold his interest in the oil company in 1925 and used his profits to purchase the Houston Dispatch and the Houston Post in 1926. He later combined them as the Houston Post-Dispatch, which later became the Houston Post. He became the Chairman of the Texas Highway Commission under Governor Dan Moody and turned it into a consistent highway program. Sterling became the Governor of Texas after beating out Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson in the Democratic primary, but became a one-term Governor after losing to Ferguson in the following election. After leaving the Governor’s office he retired from politics but continued his ventures in the oil industry. He died in Fort Worth on March 25, 1949, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
The border of the tapestry shows different plant and animal life native to Texas. At the top, in the center, are six flags with a star. The flags represent the six countries that have held sovereignty over some or all of the territory that today is the State of Texas. They are Spain, France, United Mexican States (Mexico), Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. The portraits in the corners are Stephen F Austin (Upper Left Corner), Moses Austin (Upper Right Corner), David Crockett (Lower Left Corner), and William Wharton (Lower Right Corner). The center image depicts the surrender of Santa Anna to Sam Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto. The bottom image depicts the cabin where the Texas Rebels declared their independence from Mexico.
If you would like to know more about the Texas Revolution we have several blogs referencing the events and offering more details. You can see them here.
San Antonio Quilt Guild
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Cloth, thread, batting
The first Texas Folklife Festival was held at the Institute of Texan Cultures in September of 1972. The event was modeled after the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held in Washington, D.C. In 2015, the Texas Folklife Festival, will be celebrating 43 years of cultural celebration in Texas! Each year more than 40 different cultural groups from around Texas come together to celebrate their culture and heritage through food, dancing, crafts and music. To commemorate the festival’s success, the Texas Folklife Festival periodically issues a commemorative poster for the event. Artist’s from around the state submit their designs for the poster and an image is chosen by the Institute of Texan Culture’s Director and staff to represent the festival that year. In 1983, the design selected was by San Antonio artist and illustrator, Chris Moroney. The painting showed a beautiful and elaborate star quilt, with a border of national flags representing the many cultures featured at the festival and in the Institute’s many exhibits.
This quilt, now a part of the permanent collection at ITC, was made to replicate the poster. After the image was chosen for the poster, the artist contacted the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild, with the idea of converting his image into an actual quilt. The quilters and staff at the ITC were so excited by the idea they decided to turn the making of the quilt into a Folklife Festival event in itself. The broken star pattern that forms the center of the quilt was set up in a quilting frame on the festival grounds and visitors were encouraged to help with the quilting. Members of the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild were on hand to assist the visitors with the design, and demonstrate how to quilt. By all accounts, quilting the TFF quilt was a hugely popular activity at the festival, though the guests weren’t able to completely finish the quilt by the end of the event. Luckily the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild members were able to complete the quilting and add the flag border, in time for the finished quilt to be displayed at the 1984 Texas Folklife Festival. This quilt has been on display at the ITC many times since, and can be seen today on the exhibit floor, hanging outside the Texas Art Quilts and Modern Masterpieces exhibit.
Below is a short video showing some of the other great crafts that have been demonstrated over the years at the Texas Folklife Festival. [Kathryn S. McCloud]
Materials: Cloth, wire, cardboard
This object is one of several dolls in the permanent collection at the Institute of Texan Cultures that were produced in the 1960s as part of a YWCA project based out of various Palestinian refugee camps. This program, which is ongoing, hopes to raise awareness of refugee rights and help female refugees support themselves and their families while living in the camps. Refugee camps are meant to provide temporary shelter for people who have had to leave their homes due to war, or violence. However, as these conflicts often take years or decades to resolve, many refugees are forced to spend large portions of their lives living in these temporary shelters.
This particular doll is labeled as having come from the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp near Jericho, Jordan. This refugee camp was established in 1948 as a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. This war, like many in the region, had deep historical roots. In 1516, as a result of the Ottoman–Mamluk War, the Ottoman Empire gained control over Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. The Ottomans continued to control this region until the end of the first World War. The Ottoman Empire had sided with Germany during WWI and was divided into several separate nations after its surrender to the Allies. As part of this separation, the League of Nations granted France and Great Britain mandates over Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and Palestine (now Jordan & Israel). These mandates were created in order to help transition these areas from Ottoman rule into self government. Soon after receiving their mandate, the British government announced that they would further divide the area of Palestine into two separate states, called Palestine and Transjordan. The new Palestine was to be designated as a national home for the Jewish people, and Transjordan would become an semi-autonomous Arab state. After this decision was announced, Jewish immigrants from around the world began settling in the region. However, this territory was also home to an existing Arab population, which was uncomfortable with the increasing Jewish presence in the area. The two groups became increasingly at odds, leading to a number of protests and outbreaks of violence. After WWII the British announced they would be terminating their mandate of the area. The United Nations then drafted a new partition of Palestine, dividing the area into a new Jewish state (which would become Israel), an Arab controlled state, and an internationally controlled city of Jerusalem. However, as the mandate expired these new borders were still being contested in an ongoing civil war between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of mandated Palestine. Immediately following the expiration of the mandate, the new Jewish state of Israel was attacked by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq. By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel had managed to extend its borders beyond those originally proposed by the United Nations. However, this would not be the end of fighting in the area. This conflict over territory and religion has continued to erupt into violence during the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), and others to this day. While many of the original refugees from 1948 have been able to leave the camps for their homes or new settlements away from the violence, these conflicts continue to force refugees to occupy camps like Aqbat Jaber decades after the fighting began.
Dolls like the one above provide excellent examples of traditional Palestinian dress and embroidery styles. Prior to 1948 Palestinian clothing styles were regional, with each area wearing a distinctive style of dress. This doll is wearing a garment that features the traditional Palestinian embroidered chest panel, called a qabbeh, girdle and veil. A handwritten inscription on the bottom of the stand, indicates that this doll may have been made to represent a woman from Ramallah. Traditionally, Palestinian women from the Ramalla area wore garments made of black, indigo or white linen (like the one on this doll) that were decorated with geometric and floral embroidered designs. [Kathryn S. McCloud]
Weir, Shelagh, and Serene Shahid. Palestinian Embroidery: Cross-Stitch Patterns from the Traditional Costumes of the Village Women of Palestine. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Publications, 1988.