A Century of Progress

January, 2020

A Century of Progress

Ida M. Stow (1875—1957)

Park Ridge, Illinois
Dated 1933
Silk crepe
91.5 x 76 inches
1997.007.0947, Ardis and Robert James Collection

Ida Mae Schulte Stow made this quilt with her mother Carolyn Schulte in response to the Sears Century of Progress Quilt Contest call for entries. While the Sears Contest was not the first quilt contest, it was the largest in terms of number of entries with more than 24,000. It also had a grand prize or $1,000 as well as a $200 bonus promised to a progress-themed winner. Ida and her mother took up the challenge to make a special quilt on the theme of the “Century of Progress.” 

Ida based her design on the modern Art Deco aesthetics of the 1930s rather than traditional quilt forms. She also used blue and gray, the official colors of the Century of Progress. The official fair logo in the center represents the world in its progress around the sun. Her quilting designs denote 100 years of achievements and advancements—from sailboat to ocean liner, biplane to zeppelin, and Conestoga wagon to automobile. 

Unfortunately, the only prize Ida received was an Honorable Mention ribbon. Displeased with this result, Ida wrote a letter to the contest judges complaining that the Century of Progress theme quilts were being overlooked. She wrote: “I understand that the Century of Progress quilts or those featuring the progress of the last century are not being considered or given recognition over colonial designs.” 

Apparently, 1933 was still too early for judges to favor unusual patterns over time-honored ones, even though Sears had announced the bonus prize to encourage the submission of original designs. Instead, the judges chose, for the most part, traditional pieced and appliqué patterns that exhibited extremely fine hand work.