Vermont Quilt Show: Seven Bidwell House Quilts Featured

Seven quilts from the Bidwell House Museum collection were included in a recent exhibition entitled,  “All Wool and a Yard Wide: New England Wool Quilts, 1750-1925. ”

Presented by the Vermont Quilt Festival, the exhibit included approximately 60 quilts, coverlets, blankets and related woolen items, such as this quilted underskirt circa 1760-80 (shown left), drawn from private and public collections in New England.

Beyond an exhibit of beautifully designed quilts, the exhibition examined the importance of sheep raising and the woolen industry to the New England economy in the 19th Century.

A pair of Merino Sheep, the most important breed in the N.E. wool industry

As described by the show’s co-curators, Nancy Halpern and Richard L. Cleveland, the quilts reflect a range of  “Unexpected color, bold graphics, exquisite workmanship and sturdy, sensible materials, all hallmarks of New England’s wool quilts. So durable are they that today, most of our region’s earliest surviving bed quilts are wool through and through – tops, batts and backs. Their range of colors – from indigo to persimmon, teal to eggplant to shocking pink – dispel the myth that early New Englanders preferred drab and gloomy hues.

Army-drab center medallion

When pieced, these quilts are often mistaken for those made by the Amish a century and a half later. Light catching glazed surfaces emphasizes elaborate floral and geometric quilting patterns. Dating from 1750 to 1925, and ranging widely in style and technique, these quilts – whole cloth, pieced, appliquéd, embroidered and crazy—astonish and delight the eye.”

It is only appropriate that so many of the quilts in this exhibition came from the Bidwell House Museum’s Textile Collection.   News of the quality of these objects has been widespread since the Museum’s participation in the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project in April of 2001.  Each of the Museum’s fifteen quilts was cataloged.

All the Bidwell House quilts exhibited in Vermont are “whole cloth” quilts, the tops probably having been made from European manufactured wool with some of the backs being home-spun. Two have a glazed finish: one, an unusual green, was identified by the documenters as “Tammy;” the other is made from a rich, dark blue glazed worsted often called “calimanco” that was used in the 18th century for petticoats and also for quilts. Each bed cover is beautifully quilted with elaborate, feather and floral patterns typical of American quilts of the late 18th and early 19th century.

Also in the Bidwell House collection is a red quilt (at left) identified by the documenters as likely to be of  Scottish or Irish heritage because of its primarily geometric quilting pattern. Two such quilts were displayed in Vermont, allowing the Monterey visitors to note the similarities to the Bidwell quilt and the marked difference from the typical American quilts of the time.

The Vermont Quilt Festival is New England’s oldest and largest annual quilt event, attracting more than 9,000 visitors each year, and averaging more than 700 registrants for classes and lectures annually. It is the premier venue in the United States for the exhibition of antique quilts, and is perhaps best known for this aspect of the show.

Lynn Bassett speaking about two of the Bidwell House quilts, 2068 and 2066

The Festival has also focuses attention on individual living quiltmakers through its special exhibits.  It has been extensively covered in the quilting press, in such diverse publications as The Magazine Antiques, Americana, Colonial Homes, Yankee, Vermont Life Magazine, USA Today, The Boston Globe and the magazines of Exxon and the Allstate Motor Club, and on Home and Garden Television and The Quilt Channel.

It was an excellent opportunity for the Bidwell House Museum to participate in such an important exhibition of New England cultural history.