in the Museum of American Folk Art T - Self-Taught Elizabeth V. Warren in the Museum of American Folk Art T he Amish quilt collection of the Museum of American Folk Art is important not only because it com-prises a significant percentage of the total collection (approximately ...

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By Elizabeth V. Warrenin theMuseumof AmericanFolk ArtThe Amish quilt collection of theMuseum of American Folk Art isimportant not only because it com-prises a significant percentage of thetotal collection (approximately one-quarter of more than 400 quilts), but also because itincludes examples from most of the major Amishquiltmaking centers: Lancaster and Mifflin Countiesin Pennsylvania; Ohio; and Indiana. This variedassemblage provides an opportunity to compare andcontrast the quilting traditions of the different areasand, in the process, consider the ways of life in thesecommunities that led to the creation of a distinctivestyle of American quilt. As guest curator, I havechosen twenty of these for the exhibition "Beyond theSquare: Color and Design in Amish Quilts," on viewat the Museum through November 7.DIAMOND IN THE SQUARE QUILTQuiltmaker unidentifiedLancaster County, Pennsylvania1910-1925Wool78 78"Gift of Freyda Rothstein,1998.8.2FOUR PATCH IN TRIANGLES QUILT 110.Barbara Zook Peachey11848-19301Yellow Topper Amish, Byler GroupMifflin County, Pennsylvania1910-1920Cotton851/2 x 783/4"Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William B.Wigton, 1984.25.121111 SUMMER 1999 FOLK ART16."11111 IVIII111' ,1116:7::161,1t:Iltbi,.6:11h:11:6:64-16,1 1 1 1 1 II11111111111 1 1 'I 1 "VII 1 1111111 1111Iii.1Ih.1116& II., 1.41.1)6.11.116,111 1111N1111 11(1 1111i'416'116 "Illklilik11 Nlikklibe'lLIL\ 1 \ NThe exhibition "Beyond the Square: Color and Design In Amish Quilts" is sponsored byPHILIP MORRISCOMPANIES INC.SUMMER 1999 FOLK ART 110The history, sociology, andreligion of the Amish have all beenfully discussed in many books. It is,however, beneficial to bear some ofthis background in mind when look-ing at the quilts in the Museum'scollection and considering why theyare distinct from other forms of Amer-ican quilts.The Amish in America todayare the descendants of the SwissBrethren, part of the strong Anabaptistmovement that followed the Reforma-tion in the sixteenth century. TheAmish rejected what they saw as thedecadence of the Roman Catholic andProtestant Churches of their day.Along with other Anabaptist sects, theAmish repudiated the iconography ofthese religions, including elaboratedress and ornate churches, and insteadchose the simplicity of the early Chris-tians as their model.The Amish were followers ofJacob Amman (c. 1644c. 1730), aSwiss Mennonite bishop who was soconservative that he severed his tieswith the Mennonite Church in the1690s partly because he believed itwas not strict enough in its practiceof Meidung, or shunning those whodeviate from the Ordnung, or rulesof conduct of the Church. Amman'sfollowers formed the group, latercalled Amish after him, thatmigrated to the Palatinate re-gion along the Rhine and to theNetherlands.Harshly persecuted in Europefor their beliefs, the Amish began tomigrate to America at the invitation ofWilliam Penn. The first group proba-bly arrived with other "PennsylvaniaGermans" in 1727 or 1737. During thecolonial period they settled on the richfarmland of Berks, Chester, and Lan-caster Counties in Pennsylvania,where they could continue the way oflife they had led in Europe, whichthey essentially lead today. TheAmish attempt to keep themselvesseparate from the outside world, andthey generally reject those modernconveniences such as electricity, cars,telephones, and televisions that theyfeel would bring them into contactwith that world. Their style of dress, aCENTER STAR WITH CORNERSTARS QUILTUnidentified member of theGlick familyProbably Arthur, Illinois1890-1900Wool with cotton backing763/4 821/2"Gift of Phyllis Haders, 1985.3.120 SUMMER 1999 FOLK ARTDOUBLE NINE PATCH QUILTMrs. Dan TroyerHolmes County, Ohio1915-1925Cotton753/4 431/4"Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William B.Wigton, 1984.25.19fashion closer to eighteenth-centuryEurope than twentieth-century Amer-ica, is also meant to distinguish themas a group apart.The Amish, like other Ger-manic groups, did not bring a traditionof quiltmaking to America with them.Blankets, featherbeds, and woven cov-erlets were the more typical styles ofbedding. At some point in the nine-teenth century, the Amish learned tomake quilts from their "English"neighbors, which is what they call allpeople outside their sect. There arevery few documents (mostly estateinventories) that mention quilts amongthe Amish between the 1830s and the1870s, but such quilts had to havebeen exceedingly rare, and only twoknown examples exist that can bedated before 1870. The quiltmalcingtradition seems to have taken holdamong the Amish in the 1870s and1880s, and the majority of Amishquilts extant today were madebetween the 1880s and the 1960s)As befits the conservative life-style of the Amish and their religiousprohibition against naturalisticimages, the earliest Amishquilts were made of largepieces of a single-colored fab-ric (either cotton or wool),much like the whole-clothwool quilts made in the lateeighteenth and early nine-teenth centuries by "English"quiltmakers. By the end of thenineteenth century, these werefollowed by quilts with morecolors and more design ele-ments, although large, geo-metric pieces of solid-coloredfabric were still the norm. Theclassic Lancaster CountydesignsCenter Square, Dia-mond in the Square, andBarsare examples of pat-terns that originated in thenineteenth century and contin-ued to be made through thetwentieth century, partly dueto the conservatism of allaspects of Amish life.LANCASTER COUNTY QUILTSThe Diamond in theSquare pattern, uniqueto Lancaster County,is probably an Amish adapta-tion of the center medallionstyle of quilt that was popularamong "English" quiltmakersin the first half of the nine-teenth century. The Amishwoman's selection of this out-moded style of quilt was nothappenstance. According toAmish quilt historian EveWheatcroft Granick, thechoice of the old-fashioned medallionstyle "seems to have been a deliberateattempt to make their quilts in accor-dance with Amish standards of non-conformity to 'English' fashion."2The Diamond in the SquareQuilt in this exhibition is composed ofmany typical Lancaster County fea-tures: The fabrics are fine-qualitysolid-colored wools, since patternedmaterial, although sometimes foundon the back, was considered too"worldly" for quilt tops; the dimen-sions are square; and the center motifis surrounded by a narrow inner bor-der and a particularly wide outerborder, which is finished with propor-tionately large corner blocks.This quilt, like a great manyother Amish examples, is also charac-terized by stitching of exquisite qual-ity. Although most Amish quilts werepieced together with a foot-poweredtreadle sewing machine (acceptablebecause it does not use electricity),they were typically quilted by hand.This bedcover includes favorite Lan-caster County motifs such as a wreath-star center and a grapevine in the innerborder. Quite possibly the realisticquilting motifs, such as the grapevineand the stars, were the maker's way ofcircumventing her society's prohibi-tion against naturalistic designs.Fruits, flowers, baskets, and othernongeometric forms were oftenappliqud onto the quilts of her "gayDutch" (non-Amish PennsylvaniaGermans) and "English" (any otherAmericans) neighbors. While theAmish generally rejected appliqusbecause they served no practical pur-pose, they may have felt it was accept-able to stitch many of the samedesigns into their quilts, satisfyingthemselves with the knowledge thattheir tiny, precise stitches were neces-sary to hold the backing, filling, andtop together.The Lancaster County DoubleNine Patch Quilt in the exhibition isan example of a pattern that was prob-ably developed after the classic CenterSquare, Diamond in the Square, andBars designs, most likely in the laternineteenth or early twentieth century.Double Nine Patch is a block-workpattern, popular in the outside worldby the middle of the nineteenth cen-tury but not seen among the Amishuntil much later.It is in the beautiful, bold woolexamples of Lancaster County that oneis made particularly aware of the strik-ing colors chosen by the Amish womenfor their quilts. While much of the colorchoice for a quilt was determined bythe fabrics and dyes available at anyparticular time, community values andinformal rules regarding the appropri-ateness of a specific color choice alsoSUMMER 1999 FOLK ART 21influenced the maker's selections. It issometimes confusing, therefore, tocompare the bright colors of the quiltsagainst the "plain" face that the Amishpresent to the outside world. However,since the Amish Ordnung does notspecifically refer to quilts, the womenwere not prevented from combining thedeep jewel tones and vivid pastels theyfavored with more expectedandsomberearth shades and otherdark colors. And while thebrightly colored fabrics wereoften purchased specially forquiltmaking, some Amishstill use pinks, blues, greens,and other bright colors fortheir clothing, particularly forchildren, although the vividhues are frequently hid-den beneath a black cape orjacket.MIFFLIN COUNTY QUILTSMifflin County,Pennsylvaniaspecifically theKishacoquillas Valley("Kish Valley" or "Big Val-ley," as it is commonlycalled)has been home tothe Amish since the 1790s,when several familiesmoved there from Lancasterand Chester Counties. Cur-rently, five separate anddistinct Amish groups, allstemming from an originalchurch that existed untilthe 1850s, occupy the BigValley, and each maintainsits own distinguishing rules,including those that encom-pass clothing colors andstyles, buggy styles, housingstyles and decoration, andquiltmalcing.3The Museum's col-lection includes quilts madeby members of three ofthese Amish groups. In gen-eral, the simplest examplestend to be those made by theNebraska Amish, the mostconservative group, not onlyin the Big Valley but inall of North America. Four-and nine-patch variationswere the only kinds of pat-terns permitted among theNebraska Amish, and thecolor choices allowed the quiltmakerswere also extremely limited.Two of the bedcovers includedin the exhibition, Four in Block-WorkQuilt and Four Patch in TrianglesQuilt, were made by members of theByler Group, also called the "YellowTopper" Amish because of the colorof their buggy tops. The Byler churchis slightly less conservative than theNebraska Amish, as is evidenced bythe use of some bright colors in theirquilts. However, as is clear from thepatterns chosen by the makers of theseand other quilts from Mifflin Countyin the Museum's collection, four- andnine-patch patterns would appear to bethe most popular designs among allthe groups in the Big Valley.Unlike Lancaster County,where wool was the fabric of choicefor quilts, Mifflin County Amish quiltsHUMMINGBIRDS QUILTQuiltmaker unidentifiedShipshewana, Indiana1920-1930Cotton873/4 x 681/4"Gift of David Pottinger,1980.37.6922 SUMMER 1999 FOLK ARTDOUBLE NINE PATCH QUILTQuiltmaker unidentifiedLancaster County, Pennsylvania1930-1940Wool and wool-rayon blend79% x 753/4"Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William B.Wigton, 1984.25.5are commonly found in a variety offabrics, and often the fabrics weremixed in a single quilt. The Four inBlock-Work Quilt (illustrated on page6) was probably made between 1925and 1935 by Annie M. PeacheySwarey, who used a number of differ-ent fabrics in her quilt, includingpieces of the newly availablecotton/rayon. The American ViscoseCorporation opened a factory inLewiston, Pennsylvania, in 1921, mak-ing rayon -readily available to theAmish through a local outlet shop.Amish quilts from Mifflin County,therefore, will often show a charac-teristic use of this fabric muchearlier than those made in othercommunities.4The oldest Mifflin Countyquilts in the Museum's collection weremade by members of a third Amishchurch in the Big Valley, thePeachey or "Black Topper" Amish.This group has been described asslightly more liberal than the othertwo groups discussed here,5 and bothof these quilts are examples of pat-terns that were common in the out-side world, although their peakpopularity among the "English"probably occurred at least a genera-tion before they were adopted by theAmish. Wool and cotton Log Cabinquilts such as the Barn Raisingexample in this exhibition becamepopular among most quiltmakers inthe outside world in the 1860s. Bythe end of the nineteenth century,when this quilt was made by LydiaA. Kanagy Peachey, Log Cabinswere more likely to be show quiltsmade of luxurious and impracticalfabrics such as silk.The Log Cabin Quilt inthis exhibition was made of bothwool and cotton in rich, saturatedcolors that were particularly pop-ular among the Peachey quilt-makers. Of special interest is thefact that there has been someminor use of patterned fabricschecks and inconspicuousprintson this quilt. As men-tioned above, patterned fabricsare generally considered tooworldly for use by the Amish.Occasionally, however, ratherthan wasting material, the makerwill use a small check or printthat has been acquired in a bundleof fabrics in a subdued way, suchas for the tiny chimney of a LogCabin block.The second Peachey Amishquilt in the exhibition, the CrazyPatch Quilt, is also an Amishadaptation of a pattern common inthe outside world at an earliertime. According to family history,the quilt was made by Leah ZookHartzler for her sister, Lydia, onthe occasion of Lydia's marriageto Daniel J. Yoder in 1903. In theoutside world, Crazy Quiltsreached their peak of popularity inthe 1880s. This remarkable exam-ple can be considered both anAmish woman's interpretation of adesign that was already waningamong quiltmakers outside hercommunity and a quilt that istotally in keeping with the rela-tively narrow aesthetic parameters setby that community.While obviously influenced bythe fanciful silk and velvet CrazyQuilts popular in the last quarter of thenineteenth century, the Amish makerof this quilt has imposed order andregularity on what is by definition adisordered and asymmetrical design.The "crazy" patches are neatly set offby pumpkin-colored squares at thecorners, and on close examination itcan be seen that even the irregularpatches themselves are ordered by atraditional Mifflin County four-patchpattern.MIDWESTERN QUILTSBy far the largest number ofAmish quilts in the Museum'scollection were made in theMidwest, particularly Indiana andSUMMER 1999 FOLK ART 23Ohio. This reflects both the large set-tlements of Amish in these two statesand the popularity of quiltmaking inthese communities, as well as thefact that the Museum was the benefi-ciary of a generous gift of Indianaquilts in 1980.6What may be the oldest mid-western quilt in the Museum's collec-tion, however, was probably made inone of the comparatively smaller com-munities. Although there is nogenealogical information to proveexactly where the Center Star withCorner Stars Quilt was made, itresembles a group of quilts made inthe Arthur, Illinois, community in thelate nineteenth century.7 This stableand prosperous community is knownfor the use of fine materials, a strongcolor sense, and unusual borders andpiecing arrangements,8 all of whichcan be seen on this uncommon quilt.Another unusual quilt in theexhibition is the Double Nine PatchQuilt from Holmes County, Ohio,which is neither a crib nor a full-sizequilt but rather a long and narrowshape (753/4 x 431/4"). This elongatedtextile was probably used as a loungequilt and was made for the small, usu-ally narrow daybeds that were onceused in Amish parlors in place ofupholstered sofas.9Perhaps the greatest differencebetween Amish quilts made in theMidwest and those made in Pennsyl-vania is the increased number of pat-terns found in the Midwest, both thoseborrowed from the outside world andthose that originated in the Amishcommunities. The greater variety ofpatterns may be a by-product ofthe fact that the Amish in Ohio, Indi-ana, Illinois, and elsewhere in theMidwest generally do not live in suchconcentrated communities as theircounterparts in Pennsylvania and con-sequently have more opportunities tobe exposed to the outside world andits influences. Because of the slightlyless restrictive nature of life in somemidwestern Amish communities,10there may have been greater freedomto experiment with quilt patterns.This great range of patterns canbe seen in the large grouping of mid-western Amish quilts that are part ofthe Museum's collection. Typically,the quilts are block designs sur-rounded, like most Amish quilts, by anarrow inner border and a wide outerborder. Cotton is the preferred fabric,although a variety of different cottonweaves are used (sometimes in a sin-gle quilt), and pieces of other fabricssuch as wool may be found along withthe cotton on some quilts.The Indiana quilts in the exhi-bition demonstrate color combina-tions that were particularly preferredby the Amish in the Midwest fromthe 1920s through the 1940s, whenmost of the quilts in the Museum'scollection were made. In the earlytwentieth century, black became afavorite color for quilts, especially asa background. Sometimes, a darkblue was chosen instead. Both colorsprovided a strong contrast to the boldreds, yellows, blues, greens, andother hues that the quiltmakers fre-quently selected for their patterns.Such a dark and bright color combi-nation often made even the simplestpattern appear especially exciting.The Hummingbirds Quilt, for exam-ple, an exceptionally graphic quilt,derives its visual appeal from rowsof inexpertly stitched four-pointedstars in vivid colors set against ablack field.By the middle of the twentiethcentury, Amish quiltmaking in all ofthe communities had undergonetremendous changes. A lighter colorpalette gained acceptance among manyof the quilters, and synthetic fabricsoften in harsh huesbegan to bewidely used. Amish women becameaware that there are rules in the outsideworld about what colors go with others,and so their wonderful, uninhibited jux-tapositions of colors were replaced bymore common combinations. Manyquilters also began using synthetic bat-ting, which tends to be thicker than cot-ton. This results in fewer stitches perinch and the selection of less intricatequilting patterns. Finally, as the quiltsbecame valuable collectibles, someAmish started copying the old patternsfor the new market, creating quilts that,while often still very effective, lack theinspiration of the originals.Amish quiltmaking today,although very different from fiftyyears ago, still retains its conserva-tive aspect. While contemporaryquilters in the outside world experi-ment with hand-dyed fabrics, three-dimensional constructions, and otheravant-garde techniques, Amish quilt-makers tend to specialize in the tradi-tional patterns that have been popularfor the past 150 years. Frequently,these quilts are made for sale totourists, since Amish women havefound that quiltmaking is an accept-able way to supplement their income.But while the restrictions of just afew generations ago have disap-pearedfor example, patterned fab-rics and appliqus are nowacceptablethey appear to havebeen replaced by a resistance toexperimenting with the contemporaryfashion for creating fabric "art." Thisis consistent with the tradition ofAmish quiltmaking, as one of thereasons Amish women may havebeen allowed to create such master-pieces originally was that the quiltswere intrinsically functional andnever intended as works of art. *Editor's note: This article is adaptedfrom Glorious American Quilts: TheQuilt Collection of the Museum ofAmerican Folk Art (Penguin Studio,1996) by Elizabeth V. Warren andSharon L. Eisenstat.Elizabeth V. Warren is the consultingcurator of the Museum of AmericanFolk Art.NOTES1 Eve Wheatcroft Granick, The AmishQuilt (Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books,1989), p. 29.2 Ibid., p. 76.3 See ibid., p. 91, for a chart on the evolu-tion of Amish and Mennonite groups inMifflin County.4 Ibid., p. 94.5 Ibid., p. 91.6 In 1980, David Pottinger gave theMuseum of American Folk Art ninety-twomidwestern Amish quilts. Most were fromIndiana, but the gift also included quiltsmade in Ohio and from the Amish com-munity of Haven, Kansas, which had closeties to the settlements in Indiana.7 Eve Wheatcroft Granick, interview withthe author, 1993.8 Granick, The Amish Quilt, p. 141.9 Stanley A. Kaufman with LeroyBeachy, Amish in Eastern Ohio (WalnutCreek, Ohio: German Culture Museum,1990), p.48.10 The Schwartzentruber Amish in Ohioand the Old Order Amish in Indiana areamong the most conservative of all Amishgroups.CRAZY PATCH QUILTLeah Zook HartzlerBlack Topper Amish,Peachey GroupMifflin County, Pennsylvania1903Wool and cotton with cottonembroidery88 < 75"Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William B.Wigton, 1984.25.1524 SUMMER 1999 FOLK ART


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