Friday, January 9, 2009

Mourning Quilt - 1839

If I had to name a favorite quilt, this would be it. It was made by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell in 1839 and is part of the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort Kentucky. The following is paraphrased from the book America's Glorious Quilts. (Be sure to click on the image to view at full size, be patient, it's a large scan.)

In the center is a fenced graveyard with four coffins, each represents a deceased family member and bears their name. Quilting in the graveyard indicates room for 13 coffins.

Elizabeth's idea was that each of her family members would be represented on one of the coffins around the border and that when a person died their coffin would be moved into the graveyard (only 2 coffins were moved - from the bottom left corner). According to family history Elizabeth made this quilt after the death of her 2 young sons.

The combination of the illustrative quality of this quilt, and the frank way it deals with mortality fascinates me. I wonder if Elizabeth used the quilt or if it stayed tucked away. Did she consider it her masterpiece? (if she thought of her quilting that way).

My Masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. You can see more images here.

I want to make another story quilt like The Scarlet Letter based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It won't be designed in the same way with such a linear style contained in boxes. I picture it more like an illustrated map of the places they lived. I read all of the books last winter and I have plenty of notes, I just need to get started. What better project for a Long Winter, right?


catherine said...

so cool...wish you were here, next weekend is the Fiesta Quilt Show in Tucson, I'm going! whee!

Kerry said...

Have a great time - take some pictures!

Blaize said...

I reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about two years ago. My adult experience of the books really focused on how hard they worked, and the methods by which they got things done.

The part that struck me as the saddest--and I am interested in how one would treat that in a quilt--is how hard Pa tried, and how he just didn't quite make it time and time again. I think that By the Shores of Silver Lake is the least depressing of the books, because they are warm, and have enough food, and no tragedy strikes for a whole year.

Kerry said...

That's an interesting interpretation about Pa.

I see Pa as a wanderer, almost a nomad. There is a lot of sadness in the story (as a whole), and I won't shirk from it. The scenes with the grasshoppers are truly harrowing, and it goes on for at least 2 seasons.

Overall I see a pretty positive mythology, which is one way I see the story - as American Mythology.

Have you read the books that were published later? ("On the Way Home" a diary of one of her moves with Almonzo, and "West from Home" a book of letters she wrote from San Francisco on visits to see her daughter Rose) Those also tell more about Pa in later years. And I seem to remember that they finally stay settled and live pretty happily –that is to say without any more plagues of grasshoppers, or near death from starvation!

Blaize said...

The most harrowing for me was The Long Winter, with the twists of corn husks for fuel.