Twins and a Few Poppies

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And I found this beaded example by Crystal Behn, A Dine and Carrier artist:

The first Embroiderers’ Guild shot looks like a quilt, so I’m somewhat on topic, but since this is the Hall of Fame blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t show Marie Webster’s Poppy quilt (The above version was made using Quiltsmart printed interfacing). You’ve all seen it in red, and maybe pink; this is a rather rare colorway from the collection of Suzanne Hardebeck:

Photo: TQHF

Marie’s design has inspired many interpretations.  Here are two that have been exhibited at the Quilters’ Hall of Fame. The one on the left is “Love Returns” by Susie Goodman, and the one on the right is from Bonnie Browning’s lecture at Celebration 2013.

I could tell you that the takeaway here is “Poppies are popular”, but my real intention was to provide a segue to an idea that struck me when I was at the Milwaukee Museum of Art a little while ago: twinning art and quilts. I thought it would be fun to see how many paintings would put me in mind of a TQHF Honoree.

You may be familiar with the story of how TQHF Honoree Jonathan Holstein noted the connection between the work of artists like Josef Albers and Amish quilts, and went on to mount the seminal exhibit of quilts as art at the Whitney Museum fifty years ago. Here are two Albers compositions from Milwaukee, and you can readily see the similarity between them and a log cabin quilt.

The paintings also made me think of the progressive color bands in the American Tapestry (Trip Around the World) kits sold by Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain.

Ranville, Caro. The American Tapestry. 1995. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=12-8-5855. Accessed: 11/15/21

These were just the first connections I made.  When I turned the corner, I came across another potential pairing, Georgia O’Keefe and Ruby McKim. What different interpretations!  Where O’Keefe is organic in form, piecers have to be more angular. I personally find the painting to be almost sensual, but I also love the orderly arrangement of the quilt.

Next up was a fun artist who was totally unfamiliar to me: Cleveland Brown. I thought at the time that he and Honoree Yvonne Porcella would probably be kindred spirits.  Their work shows a real sense of whimsy and action. Contrast these two treatments with Ruby McKim’s “take” on a circus. (I’ve put them one after another because I couldn’t figure out how to create a three-ring circus and still show detail.)

Cleveland Brown. “George Melly at the Circus.”
Porcella, Yvonne. “Keep Both Feet on the Floor.” Photo: The Alliance for American Quilts.
Ruby Short McKim. “Roly Poly Circus.” Photo from McKim Studios website.

And finally, another Porcella/ painter visual connection can be made with Yvonne’s first quilt, “Takoage”, and an intriguing 3-dimensional piece by Israeli artist Yaakov Agam, “Union II”.   The painting is done in such a way that it changes colorway as you move in front of it. First the quilt, and then a left-center-right view of the painting.

Yvonne Porcella. “Tacoage.” Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The painting also makes me think of Honoree Michael James’ early work.  Here’s one of his quilts in the same colorway as the right view of Agam’s work.

Michael James. “Aletsch.” 1990. National Quilt Museum.

If I count an O’Keefe/ Webster poppy match, I’ve linked six Honorees with paintings (some with multiple connections): Marie Webster, Jonathan Holstein, Mary McElwain, Ruby McKim, Yvonne Porcella and Michael James.  I’ll bet you can think of more.  I invite you to try to try this fun exercise the next time you visit an art gallery or museum, and let me know what you find.

Your quilting friend,


Coming Soon…

I’ve read that the French have no good expression to say “I’m excited about….” A direct translation “Je suis excitée” would more often be understood as talking about physical arousal—not appropriate. This vocabulary gap is most unfortunate because they would have no way to tell you about how happy I am that there will be an in-person Celebration this year. There’s a link below for an interesting article exploring the different cultural outlooks behind this linguistic issue, but don’t go there yet; we’ve got quilt-related things to talk about.

Celebration is going to be pared down—no meal events, social distancing arrangements, etc.—but it’s happening. Yippee! You may remember that I wrote about taking part in the nomination process for our 2021 Heritage Honoree, Mary Gasperik; I’m super excited now to see her inducted. I have seen some of her quilts in person, and I’m looking forward to seeing more. She made one masterpiece that was on display in the Smithsonian for a year, and I hope that one comes to visit at the Hall of Fame. You can get a preview of her work on the Quilt Index; but it would be better if you can come to Marion and see the real things. (Link below.)

We’ll also be inducting Marti Michell whose acrylic templates have made it possible for me to attempt a Seven Sisters quilt (no photo; I said “possible”, not “done”), and recognizing the Lutheran World Relief for their charitable work. No live auctions, but there will be small lectures. As excited as I am about the inductions, it’s a toss-up whether I’m more excited about seeing quilting friends. This will be the first non-Zoom, live get-together I’ve had in almost a year and a half, and I know most of you are in the same position. Come if you can and we’ll have a great time. Stay tuned for more details on the website.

We’re having some pretty nice weather here in the Chicago suburbs, and I’ve been out in the gardens. Maybe I can post some photos when things start blooming. In the meantime, how about looking at some flowering quilts? We can tiptoe through the many variations of tulips and then see what else I can find.

First, let’s see some real tulips.  These photos are taken from the backyard of the Quilters Hall of Fame Museum which operates at what once was the home of Honoree Marie Webster.  According to her granddaughter Rosalind Perry, Marie loved gardens and many of the quilt patterns she sold were floral designs.

Thanks to Comfort Landscapes, LLC, Marion, Indiana for their years of help caring for Marie’s garden!

Marie Webster had more than one tulip design for patterns or kits which she sold by mail order from her upstairs bedroom, placed in department stores like Marshall Field in Chicago, or distributed through the shop of another Honoree, Mary McElwain. 

Here’s one of Marie’s trade publication showing a graceful arrangement called “Windblown Tulips”, along with an actual quilt in that pattern from our collection.

From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame
From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame. Pieced, appliqued and quilted by Mollie Belle Vancil Mitchell and friends in Carbondale, IL.

The design looks different in the next quilt—there’s sashing, corner-stone borders, and a variation of the tulips in the borders—but you still get the sense of flowers bending in an early Spring breeze.

Crowner, Bertha E. (1891-1972. “Tulip Time”. Late 1930s. From American Folk Art Museum, New York Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=49-142-1066. Accessed: 05/02/21

The breezy look disappears in Webster’s “May Tulips”. It’s pure Art Deco, and would have been so “on trend” when it first came out.

From the collection of The Quilters Hall of Fame

In the 1930s-50s, Honoree Mary McElwain operated a quilt shop in Walworth, Wisconsin (in what was then a high-society resort area) and another in swanky St. Petersburg, Florida. Here are two pillow kits from the Wisconsin shop that I just recently cataloged (they’ll be searchable as soon as I can do the data entry). “Dutch Tulip” has the blue border and “Tulip Plant” is in peach.

Dutch Tulip could be repeated to make a bed-sized quilt like this one shown in a trade “card” from another distributor, BOAG Company of Chicago.

The final McElwain tulip offering we’ll look at borrows an element of movement from Webster although Marie was not the designer; it’s called “Tulip Swirl”. This version really makes a statement, and I think it should have an award for “Best Use of Rick Rack Trim”.

Quiltmaker, Unknown. “Tulip Swirl”. 1935. From Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=24-20-329. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here are three blocks made by Honoree Mary Schafer. I’m puzzled by the fat stems in the first one (although they make a great secondary daisy), and I wonder about the green petals in the second, but these are all readily identifiable as tulips. 

That isn’t always the case. Look at these blocks from the collection of Honoree Cuesta Benberry, who may have acquired them in a round robin exchange. That first one has more of a poppy leaf and I just don’t understand the layers of petals (maybe it’s a parrot tulip). The second makes me think of angel wings and halos. But these are both cataloged as tulip blocks.  The last in the group clearly qualifies as a tulip; it’s from Cuesta’s “Always There” quilt.

Honoree Ruby Short McKim did some tulip designs too. The first photo shows the one in her “Flower Garden” quilt, and the second is from her “Flower Baskets”.

Detail of Flower Garden Quilt designed by Ruby Short McKim Circa 1930 made by Oma Greer Morris (Mrs. C. T., b. Oct. 20, 1894 in Comanche County, TX, m. Charlie Thomas Morris in 1914, d. Feb. 11, 1985, De Leon, Comanche County, Texas). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Pierson (Leslie), TTU-H2021-006-002.
Detail of The Quilters Hall of Fame Opportunity Quilt 2017.

Tulips weren’t just popular as quilt motifs in the 1930s. Here’s one from fifty years before that which was collected by Honoree Mary Barton.

Detail of: “Tulip variation” Quilt, c. 1870. Gift of Mary Barton. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 80.3.2

And they continue to be popular as seen in this panel of blocks made from a 2003 pattern in the magazine of Honorees Marianne Fons and Liz Porter. (Okay, the center block has daisies, but I didn’t want to crop.)

Section of “Jubilee Album” by Sue Nickels and Pat Holly. This quilt was the block-of-the-month for “Love of Quilting” and was on exhibit at The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2019.

That’s a pretty good romp through the tulips of our Honorees. But wait; there’s more. I’ve put more than one tulip on a quilt myself. These are somewhat stylized—they must be hybrids.

The Quilt Index claims 834 entries under the tulip motif. (Some look more like lilies or roses, but who am I to question?)  Lots of those are straight set like Webster’s  “Windblown Tulips” and the red McElwain “Tulip Swirl”, but many are grouped in fours. This first one has no leaves and makes your eye jump from the “x” of the actual block to a secondary pattern with a quatrefoil center.

Alexander, Esma Lea Brow. “Tulip Baby Quilt”. 1950-1975. From Indiana State Museum, Indiana Quilt Registry Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=39-40-3568. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here’s another layout that fools the eye; the stems of the satellite buds make a hashtag/pound sign design. (Why are those buds round? Unopened tulips are ovoid.)

Lahr, Elizabeth; Strawser, Jenn. Tulip. 1880. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=12-8-8433. Accessed: 05/02/21

This one has lost its stems and gained a four-lobed center, but it still has that diagonal symmetry that is so pleasing.

Blair, Mary M. Dickerson. “Tulip”. 1940. From University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska Quilt Project (Lincoln Quilters Guild). Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=29-24-3114. Accessed: 05/02/21

But I’m also pleased with this quilt where symmetry has been ignored. (Dare I say “tossed out”? It does have a nice, tossed appearance.)

Unknown, quilt. Tulip Applique. 1850-1875. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=20-16-346. Accessed: 05/02/21

And there’s always someone who is totally unconventional. This quilt has an appealing vining border design and blocks where the stems form a circle instead of a cross.

Vaught, An. “Applique and Tulip”. From Indiana State Museum, Indiana Quilt Registry Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=39-40-3334. Accessed: 05/02/21

Most of the tulip quilts on the Quilt Index are constructed as blocks, but here’s an unusual medallion setting. The layout is similar to what you see in Webster’s “Poppies” and “Sunflower” (that’s for another day), and the stems have taken on an interesting Art Nouveau curve.

Maker, Unknown. “Tulip”. 1930-1949. From International Quilt Museum, International Quilt Museum; Ardis and Robert James Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=36-34-358. Accessed: 05/02/21

Here are two more curvaceous ones.

And finally, an overall layout from the 1970s. This “first quilt” was made from a quilt kit purchased from Lee Ward’s Craft Company in Illinois.

Grzyb, Albina; Kasprzyk, Sally. Terry’s Tulip Quilt. c. 1972. From Arizona Quilt Documentation Project, Arizona Quilt Documentation Project. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=38-36-857. Accessed: 05/02/21.

And with that we’ve come full circle from Marie Webster’s kits, so it’s a good place to stop.  We never got past the tulips, so before I go, I want to show you Marti Michell’s “Wild Rose”.

You can consider it a floral teaser for either Celebration or another blog, or maybe for both.

Your quilting friend,


French language. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20181104-why-the-french-dont-show-excitement

Quilt Index Gasperik quilts. https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=artists&kid=18-47-2

Mary McElwain: Road Trip!

Road trip!  Who wants to go to a lovely little quilt shop in Wisconsin? Well. at least virtually that is. 

But before we go, I’m sorry to report it, but I have Bloggers’ Block. I spent the time I should have been writing on Sunday in virtual study centers offered on Zoom by the American Quilt Study Group.  I learned a lot and got to see some old familiar faces, but now it’s hard to get down to work. So I’m going to reprise some information I have on hand about last year’s Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain.  If you’ve been in one of my regional study groups and heard my Power Point already, or if you learned about Mary McElwain at Celebration 2019, then you can take a pass; but please come back next week.

So now let’s get on the bus and head to Walworth, Wisconsin, the site of the Mary McElwain Quilt Shop.  It’s just about an hour from Chicago going Northwest into an area of moraine hills, woods, and clear, deep lakes left by the last glaciers.  You would love this scenery even if it weren’t for the quilt shop. Nearby Lake Geneva has been a favorite tourist destination for Chicagoans since the wealthy travelled there to escape the 1871 Fire. In 1968, the late Hugh Hefner built his first Playboy resort at Lake Geneva, and there is still a resort on that site. On the left is a resort hotel from the days when Mary had her shop and on the right is the Lake today.

Mary opened her business in 1910 in a corner of her husband’s jewelry store on the town square in Walworth, but quilts soon took over. By 1933 (at the height of the Depression) the space was expanded with a double archway to access the shop next door. The expansion was marked with a two-day event where 500 people saw two new quilt designs, had tea, and were entertained by Miss Jean Radebough who sang old-fashioned songs to her own melodeon accompaniment. Here’s the shop in 1932 before the renovations and an interior view with some of the gift items offered in addition to the quilts.

It took a lot of work to develop the McElwain enterprise, and Mary was tireless in her efforts.  In the early days of her business, Mary would take quilts around to small towns in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, giving lectures and exhibiting her collection at local club shows, fairs and bazaars. She also took her show on the road to other cities such as Rochester, NY and St. Petersburg, FL. (I suspect she was combining business with pleasure; there are lots of McElwains in both areas, and maybe she was visiting family.) She promoted her business by writing an article for “Hobbies” magazine called “Heirlooms of Tomorrow”, and by speaking engagements, including one on WLS Radio. In March, 1933, Mary was invited to exhibit at Navy Pier for the Garden Club of Illinois, and later that year, she was one of the judges for the Sears contest at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Phew! Here’s Mary (on the right) with the other judges at the fair.

 Mary’s shop also became famous as a destination for groups as well as for individuals who enjoyed a drive in the country. She displayed quilts not only on the walls, but also had what may have been the original bed turnings. When she wasn’t having turnings, quilts were displayed on beds as well as on the walls of the shop. This is Mary and her husband, William, with a Daisy Chain quilt on a handsome spindle bed.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that there’s not much unused wall space. No wonder a trip to Mary’s shop was such a treat!

Some of Mary’s customers were society ladies who included the wife of an ex- governor of Illinois, a Rockefeller, the wife of the Norwegian Consul, and a visitor from Paris, France. But she also served the local women and shoppers who drove up from Illinois. Mary had connections with large department stores too. A store like Carson, Pirie & Scott in Chicago would have made her products available to the many Park District quilt clubs which were active in the 1930s and 1940s.

McElwain’s connections weren’t just local.  And her success in one tourist area led her to another.  In the late 1920s, St Petersburg, FL became a popular winter getaway, especially in 1929 when the city opened the “Million Dollar Pier”. Mary McElwain was right there with them, offering her goods in the McIntosh department store. The green benches on the sidewalk outside the store are still a tourist attraction. The upscale Wilson-Chase store also carried Mary’s products, but the chicest location for her line was the McElwain shop on Beach Drive.  It was located in the posh Ponce de Leon Hotel, just across from the yacht club. Here are some Florida shots—just to make this a real virtual road trip:

Million Dollar Pier. Mary’s shop is in the hotel to the left of the pier , just under the word “The” in “The Sunshine State”.

Green benches at McIntosh department store which carried Mary’s goods.

Ponce de Leon Hotel.  Mary’s shop occupied the street-level corner on the left side.

Yacht club directly across the street from Mary’s shop in St. Petersburg. I put this one in to give you a flavor of the trade she was catering to there.

So, what did Mary sell?  Mostly, other people’s products, but she did design one pattern called “Daisy Chain”. This may be her most-recognized pattern because it was on the cover of her catalog, which I’ll tell you about in a minute. “Daisy Chain” sold at 35 cents for a paper pattern, $12.50 for a stamped or cut kit, $25.00 for a basted top and $85.00 for a finished product.  The “Painted Daisy” crib quilt was available in pink or blue, stamped at $1.75 or finished at $7.50.

Other patterns and quilts sold by the McElwain shop were traditional designs like Drunkard’s Path, re-named “Gypsy Tears”. Mary wasn‘t shy about giving her own names to common blocks and settings; for example, what we know as Trip Around the World was sold as “American Tapestry”. Other patterns were based on old quilts in Mary’s collection, or came from well-known designers such as Marie Webster and Ruby Short McKim.

There is no evidence that McElwain took out ads for her patterns and kits, but the shop did provide little brochures of its offerings.  In 1934, Mary compiled a catalog-cum-commentary which she called “The Romance of the Village Quilts”. This 34 page booklet cost twenty five cents in the store. The catalog contained photos of finished quilts that could be purchased as a paper pattern, a kit which was either stamped or cut, a basted top, or a completed quilt.  Mixed in with these were a romantic essay on quilts written by Mary, a poem describing the bed turnings (written as a tribute to McElwain), interior shots of the shop, and an Edgar A. Guest poem in praise of the afghan. 

Mary used quality products for the finished quilts she sold and offered those same products through the catalog for those who were making the quilts themselves.  She carried fabric, rulers, stencils, batting and bias binding.

The quilt patterns and kits that McElwain sold were mostly traditional, but she had something for other tastes as well. Here’s a “Modern Rose” on the left (made by next year’s Heritage Honoree, Mary Gasperik) and a “Pines and Wreaths” on the right made by Esther Swingle Weter, who stored it with a note saying, “Pattern and material from the McElwain shop in Walworth, Wisconsin.”

McElwain not only sold directly, she also distributed her patterns indirectly through other companies.  Rock River batting from nearby Janesville, WI, was carried in the shop and catalog, and was used in the finished quilts that Mary sold; in exchange for this placement, she arranged for a McElwain pattern to be included on the batting wrapper. Rock River Cotton Company also purchased patterns from Mary, which they printed on tissue paper and sold as a set of eleven. Here’s a photo of a Rock River batting wrapper and the listing for the batting in the McElwain catalog.

 McElwain’s patterns were distributed on Mountain Mist labels as well, but there is no indication that their batting was sold by McElwain.  Mary also had a working relationship with the Boag Company of River Forest, IL.  Mary would sell Boag’s quilt and pillow kits at her store and through her catalog, and in return, Boag would slap a McElwain label on his Julia Fischer Force catalog.

This is from the inside of a Boag/ JFF catalog, and below is the cover with the McElwain label.  Look closely and you’ll see the glue outline from the original Boag label around McElwain’s name.

How’s that for marketing?

As you can imagine, the McElwain enterprise took a lot of workers.  Mary began with her own work and items made by local women; her husband helped with the accounts, and her daughter, DeEtte, was a mainstay.  Eventually, McElwain teamed with a Women’s Exchange of nearly 60 workers who made the completed quilts.  Mary’s granddaughter delivered projects to their homes and was paid a nickel per item (even if 3 items went to same house).  The local girls who helped with the large bed turnings were friends of the family and they were “paid” with a soda (or do you say pop?). One of Mary’s pattern designers, Lillian Walker, became famous in her own right.

Well, I’ve taken you on a virtual road trip and introduced you to a quilt entrepreneur of the highest order. Sadly, you can’t take a real trip to the McElwain Quilt Shop because it closed in 1960.  But the Walworth Historical Society has a permanent exhibit displaying quilts and giving information about the shop.  Not all of these items are McElwain’s, but I think I see a Webster kit which she would have sold in the first picture, and some of the patterns from her catalog in the second. Who knows what else they have?

That’s it for now.  I promise to be back on track next week.

Your quilting friend,