An Evolving Vision: Classics

An Evolving Vision: Classics

In 2022, the International Quilt Museum celebrates 25 years. The 1997 donation of the 1000-piece Ardis and Robert James Collection to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln established the IQM. For the past quarter century, the James Collection has formed the museum’s core, its heart.

The IQM inherited the Jameses’ ambitious concept of what a quilt collection could be: “an absolutely comprehensive collection of quilts from all over the world.” We have also expanded upon it, sharing the collection with the world through research, interpretation, and exhibition. We have gratefully embraced the Jameses’ evolving vision and made it our own.


With the gift of the Robert and Ardis James Collection, the University of Nebraska committed to exhibiting and preserving the James Collection, and to supporting ongoing research and acquisitions.  Classics presents some of the most unusual and rare American quilts from the James Collection and showcases more than two centuries of quiltmaking tradition.  It also highlights some of the fascinating research conducted over the years by curators, visiting scholars, and students. Groundbreaking findings have advanced the field of quilt history and shed light on the significance of quilts in American history. 

March 4 - October 12, 2022
Von Seggern Gallery

Virtual Gallery: All Three "An Evolving Vision" Exhibitions

Virtual Gallery: All Three "An Evolving Vision" Exhibitions
Virtual Gallery: All Three "An Evolving Vision" Exhibitions

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Reconciliation Quilt
Lucinda Ward Honstain and/or Emma Honstain Bingham
Brooklyn, New York
November 18, 1867
Cotton; hand pieced, appliqued and embroidered, hand quilted 
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 2001.011.0001

The "Reconciliation Quilt” was made by Lucinda Ward Honstain of Brooklyn, New York in 1867, likely with the assistance of her daughter Emma Bingham. Imagery in this unique album quilt highlights the racial, social and economic diversity of the years immediately following the end of the Civil War, as well as images of Lucinda’s Brooklyn neighborhood. 

Jeff Davis and Daughter 
A block reading “Jeff Davis and Daughter,” portrays the former president of the Confederate States of America standing with one of his daughters.  On May 13, 1867, in a gesture of reconciliation, a northern judge released Jefferson Davis on bail from Virginia’s Fort Monroe. Northerners were divided over the decision, but many felt releasing Davis was an important step in uniting the North and South. Was Lucinda hoping to do her part to promote reconciliation? 

Brawl in the Fifteenth Ward: The Honstain Family War Renewed
The detailed imagery of Honstain’s quilt suggests a serene life, with images of her Brooklyn home and patriotic portraits of her husband and son-in-law. Reality was far from calm, however. Lucinda and her husband were the topic of numerous newspaper articles, including a report of a brawl in the street in front of her home after she and her husband separated. A year later they divorced, though Lucinda referred to herself as a widow in later U.S. census records.  

Honstain’s Military Service…or Disservice? 
John Honstain served twice during the Civil War. Family records indicate that, seven months after enlisting in April, 1861, he was arrested and court-martialed, after cheating other soldiers out of money intended for their uniforms. He was allowed to resign. He enlisted again in 1862.  In 1863, serving as a Lieutenant in the 132nd Regiment of the New York Volunteers, he ventured behind enemy lines and was captured. He told a story of a daring escape, but upon his return he again faced charges for desertion. His was dishonorably discharged on May 31, 1865.

Elephants, Camels and Walruses… in New York City?
Honstain’s quilt holds a variety of animals, many of them typically found in a farmyard. But she also included exotic animals such as elephants, camels, and walruses.  Where would she have encountered them?  Perhaps at the American Museum…or in Central Park! 
Showman P.T. Barnum opened the American Museum in New York City in 1841. The museum was decorated with huge pictures to draw in crowds eager to see exotic animals.  The museum’s lecture hall featured performances involving whales, hippos, monkeys, snakes, and even a kangaroo. The Central Park Menagerie opened officially in 1865, but hundreds of animals, including camels and alligators, had already been donated to the collection.  


Lucinda’s Tulip
Lucinda Ward Honstain and/or Emma Honstain Bingham
Brooklyn, New York
Circa 1860-1880
Cotton; hand pieced and appliqued, hand quilted 
Gift of Madeline Ricards, IQM 2001.012.0001

In 2001, after the "Reconciliation Quilt" was given to the IQM, curators contacted Madeline Ricards, a descendent of Lucinda Honstain.  She was thrilled to know where this important family quilt was, as it had left family hands some decades before the conversation. Within a week, Ms. Ricards had donated a second quilt made by Lucinda Honstain, happy to reunite them again.

From 1833 to 1933
Emma Leonhard
Virginia, Illinois
Cotton; Hand and machine pieced, hand appliqued and embroidered, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0368

This original design by Emma Mae Leonhard was made to enter in the Sears National Quilt Contest, held during the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The Fair's theme, "A Century of Progress," commemorated Chicago's 100th Anniversary. Leonhard’s themed quilt illustrates 100 years of advancement through architecture - from a small log cabin to a tall skyscraper - and the chronology of women's fashions. In the fine quilting stitches at the top and bottom of the quilt, she depicts the evolution of transportation.  

The 1933 Sears, Roebuck and Company’s Century of Progress Quilt contest wasn’t the first quilt contest in the U.S., but it was the largest. More than 24,000 quilts were submitted in hopes of winning the $1000.00 prize (equivalent to more than $21,000 today). A special $200.00 Bonus Prize was offered for quilts that focused on the Chicago’s World Fair theme of A Century of Progress.  None of the themed quilts won awards. In fact, another maker wrote “One of the judges (was) heard to state that she would not give three minutes of her time to consider a Century of Progress design.”


Star of Bethlehem
Rachel White Trundle (1840-1910)
Frederick County, Maryland
Circa 1855-1865
Cotton; hand pieced, appliqued and embroidered, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 2009.039.0042

Rachel W. Trundle inscribed her name and location on this quilt, along with a poem of friendship. The inscription reads:

“When friendship once is rooted fast,
 It is a plant no storm can sever;
Transfixed and boundless as the blast,
 It blooms and flourishes forever”

“Friendship - thy name so deserts me
 So warmly felt by those we love
 It still imparts a pleasant hope
 To part its smile once more.” R.W. Trundle

The poem is a popular one found in assorted books and in Godey’s Lady’s Book in the mid-1800s. The name Liliane Dickerson is written on the reverse of the quilt.

What is the connection between the two women whose names are on the quilt?
Rachel White Trundle was born January 20, 1840 in Adamstown, Maryland. She was the oldest of 10 children. She married Americas Dawson, a prominent landowner of Montgomery County in 1885. Her obituary in 1910 described her as a member of St. Bartholomew’s Protestant Church with “many devoted Friends.”  Friendship was obviously very important to Rachel. Liliane Dickerson, born in 1871, was the daughter of Rachel’s sister Elizabeth. The quilt may have been a special gift for Liliane.


Friendship Block 
Mercy Jane Bancroft Blair (1825 -1900)
South Apalachin, New York
Circa 1855-1863 
Cotton; hand pieced, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0852

Friends and neighbors inscribed their names on Mercy Jane Blair’s quilt. A note that accompanied the quilt when it arrived as a part of the James Collection included family names and the location of the quilt’s origin.  Fabrics helped to give it an approximate date. Descendants of Mercy Jane searched the original family homestead and discovered diaries she kept from 1859-1900 that gave amazing details of her life and her quilt. We learned that Mercy Jane worked as an independent seamstress who traveled from home to home, staying anywhere from half a day to several weeks cutting, fitting and sewing dresses for her clients. And we learn that she made a special quilt. 

Mercy Jane Makes a Quilt
Mercy Jane Blair carefully preserved leftover fabrics from garments she sewed for friends and neighbors. Her diary contains notes indicating she saved them to make the Friendship quilt we see here. For example, on February 7, 1859, Mercy Jane writes that she received twenty-five cents for making a brown polka-dotted dress for Mrs. Elnina Brown. Mrs. Brown’s signed block is composed of brown polka-dotted fabric. 

Mercy Jane Is Engaged
Only a single entry on October 29, 1863 mentions Mercy Jane’s engagement to Addison Blair.  She writes: “Mr. Blair was over at Sister Moe[’]s of course.  I was there to[o] and consented to become his wife, how strange that seems.” Mercy Jane no longer sewed for others after her marriage, but continued her entrepreneurial ways by selling butter and loaning money to neighbors at an eight percent interest rate. She quickly paid off the mortgage on the family farm.

Stars and Comet
Harriet Miller Carpenter (1831-1915), Designed by Uriah Carpenter (1825-1900)
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Cotton; Hand pieced, appliqued and embroidered, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0264

Stars and Comet is one of twenty known quilts made by Harriett Carpenter and her husband Uriah. The quilts were made for their grandchildren and most are embroidered with inscriptions similar to the one found on this quilt, which reads “Made and presented to E. C. H [Elsie Carpenter Hess] by Grandma Carpenter 1892.”  These Mennonite quiltmakers made a number of original designs, including state and national maps and rainbows, all with exceptional quilting.
An Expert on Quilting
A Pine Hill Lady of 79 has Few to Equal her Designs
         --Lititz Record, February 7, 1910
“That the aged Mrs. Harriet Carpenter, residing at Pine Hill, Warwick Township, who is 79 years old has few if any equals in designing and quilting patchwork is undisputed. Although of a quiet and modest disposition, with no inclination to become popular in her hobby, she has nevertheless gained quite a reputation in this line of work, not only from the taste displayed in arranging the many-colored patches in order to present an attractive appearance but also in her adeptness in handling the needle. Now she is being sought by others and prevailed upon to execute work for them. From near and far people have been coming to her home to see her beautiful work, a number recently having put in their appearance by sleighs who were entire strangers to her.”

The Mystery of Grandma Carpenter’ Rainbow Quilts
Grandma Carpenter designs were originals. Perhaps Stars and Comet was inspired by the Great Comet of 1882.  A mystery, however exists regarding four Rainbow quilts in the IQM Collection.  One is a recent gift from Grandma Carpenter’s descendants. The other three in the James Collection are attributed to Susan Frey Habecker and Mabel Mae Brubaker. Harriet Carpenter’s mother-in-law was a Habecker and both they and the Brubakers are found in the same neighborhood. The identical format – including elaborate quilting – indicates they were made from the same pattern, however to date no link has been proven.

My Crazy Dream 
Mary M. Hernandred Ricard (1838-1915)
Made in Boston and Haverhill, Massachusetts
Dated 1877-1912
Silk; hand pieced and embroidered, no quilting
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0541

Crazy quilts, like this magnificent quilt titled “My Crazy Dream,” became a popular trend in quilting due to concurrent social, cultural, and aesthetic events and trends.  One major influence was the introduction of Japanese art and culture, particularly as interpreted by Westerners.  
Crazy quilts were often used as ornamental throws. They were most frequently fashioned out of fine silk taffetas, satins, brocades and velvets. Mary M. Hernandred Ricard began her piece in 1877 and finished the top in 1912. There is no information as to why the piece was never completed; basting stitches in the border are still visible and no backing was applied.  

A Career as an Elocutionist?
Mary M. Hernandred Ricard and her husband appear to have had a comfortable life.  They are listed in the 1860 census as running a boarding house for textile mill workers in Manchester, New Hampshire. The family moved late in the 1860s to 22 Winter Street in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where Hubert prospered as a manufacturer and a retailer. Scholar Barbara Brackman discovered a very specific talent of Mary’s – she was a dramatic elocutionist, a specialized kind of public speaker. An article described one evening: “Mme. Ricard gave some fine readings…Her “make-up” in personating General Butler was perfect, and alone worth the price of admission…The accompaniments of Miss Carrie Ricard [Mary’s daughter] were an important factor in the success of the evening…” 

Japanese Influence found in Crazy Quilts
After Japan opened for trade in 1853, Western fascination with “Japanese Taste” grew rapidly, expanding to even greater popularity after Japan’s participation in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.  Makers often incorporated Japanese motifs in their crazy quilts.  Look for fans, butterflies and an elaborate spiderweb, including a three-dimensional spider and a trapped fly in "My Crazy Dream"!
Though it is often thought the term “Crazy quilt” refers to the somewhat lunatic visual extravagance of these pieces, it probably came from the term “crazed” in Japanese ceramics, where the surface’s glaze is cracked into an irregular pattern.

English Rose variation
Olive Emily McClure Cook (1862-1945)
Anna, Illinois 
Cotton; Machine pieced, hand appliqued and embroidered, hand quilted 
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0669

Olive McClure Cook was an accomplished seamstress who enjoyed knitting, embroidery, quilting, and sewing throughout her life.  Her English Rose quilt is playful and modern, with distinctive folk-art qualities. Cook incorporated bright sateen fabrics in solid shades of red, pink, yellow, and green. The centers vary in color and shape. The small circular flowers in the borders and central vine look like layered lollipops. Near the top of the quilt, she embroidered her name and the date in bright red letters, adding an embellished curve flourish.

A colonial influence?
Olive Cook’s 1939 quilt is inspired by traditional mid-nineteenth-century four-block red and green applique style quilts, reflecting the aesthetic influence of the Colonial Revival. The Colonial Revival promoted romanticized “colonial” designs (defined as anything made prior to the Civil War) as appropriate for home decor of the 1930s. Quiltmakers were encouraged to modernize their quilts with newly available fabric colors. As Ruby Short McKim advised Better Homes and Gardens readers in 1933, “The Turkey Red, with pink, marigold yellow, and shutter green,” used in grandmother’s quilt “may not be in keeping with our pastel-tinted boudoirs of today.

Basket of Flowers
Maker unidentified
United States
Circa 1880-1900
Cotton; hand pieced and appliqued, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 2009.039.0038

This Basket of Flowers quilt follows the trend of red and green applique popular in the middle and late decades of the nineteenth century, but the addition of bright cheddar orange baskets makes it unique and vibrant. Ardis James describes the impact quilts had on her when selecting them: ”A quilt has to speak to me. It hits me in the chest and says ‘take me.’  Each is special and unique.” The Basket of Flowers quilt was featured on the cover of Quilt Digest 5, which included an article about the James Collection by author and historian Michael Kile. 

Red and Green All Over
The earliest known example of the red and green (and orange) applique genre is a dated 1839 quilt in the IQM collection. The popularity of this color combination, which is seen in thousands of nineteenth century quilts, is due in part to the development of new dyeing processes that made possible the vivid green and brilliant red printed fabrics.  Though we don’t know where this quilt was made, the color combination was most popular in Pennsylvania.

Square in a Square with Toile backing 
Maker unidentified
Probably Berks County, Pennsylvania
Circa 1810-1830
Cotton; hand pieced, hand quilted
Ardis and Robert James Collection, IQM 1997.007.0428

The Square in a Square is an early example of American block style patchwork. Early American quilts followed British and Dutch layouts. In the 1820s and 1830s a dramatic shift occurred, likely the result of influences like the Industrial Revolution’s standardization of manufacturing, and specifically the use of interchangeable parts. The earliest examples often feature, as in this quilt, a pieced block alternating with an unpieced block, with blocks set “on point” rather than placed horizontally. This block style quickly became the dominant layout in the United States. 

On the Reverse
The backing fabric used for this quilt is an unusual printed toile featuring scrolls and peacocks. Toiles are monochromatic large-scale prints created in the late 1700s with a copperplate printing technique. Complex designs of figures, florals and birds are engraved onto a large plate which is covered with a dye pasted and then pressed onto a woven linen or cotton fabric. The printing allows for great details and dimension. Look for cross-hatching, or overlapping linear lines that add color and shading. This design was printed at Bromley Hall, a prominent textile printing factory in Middlesex, England, circa 1765-1775. 

Deciphering the Clues
Dating this Square in a Square is complex.  Fabrics and construction give varying clues. An unusual circa 1765 English toile fabric is used for the backing. Two printed cottons used to create the patchwork pattern with designs of flowing vines and flowers can be identified as dating from 1810-1830. These two fabrics make sense when used together; often precious fabrics were upcycled when they became unfashionable. The binding, however, (the outer edge of applied fabric used to “close” the three layers of the quilt) is made of an easily identifiable madder print from decades later.  A later date is also suggested by the use of a sewing machine in the piecing of various remnants on the quilt’s back, as well as in the outer border and the binding. Sewing machines were not common until after the Civil War era, suggesting that the quit was completed decades after the fabrics were printed. Were the patchwork blocks left partially completed until a member of another generation discovered it and completed it? The fabrics tell us “yes”! 

Printing with Indigo
Prior to the development of synthetic dyes in the mid-1800s, dyeing cotton fabric was particularly difficult.  Dye recipes were developed through trial and error processes that varied from printer to printer, and each  had different degrees of color fastness.  The chemistry of indigo makes it particularly difficult to print – its chemical structure begins to change and adhere to a surface as soon as it encounters oxygen. Look closely at the fabrics in the patchwork design.  The irregularities of the blue areas indicate that the dye may have been applied using “pencil blue,” a technique wherein indigo is applied directly and very quickly to the design with a small tool. 

Works in the Exhibition
Event Date
Friday, March 4, 2022 to Wednesday, October 12, 2022