Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

April 4, 2012

New Quilts Exhibition Opens June 9 At Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

Some of the nation’s most treasured quilts were produced around the middle of the 19th century influenced by quiltmaking in the nation’s third largest city of the time, Baltimore. A dozen of these works of art — most created in a distinctive and elaborately conceived appliquéd style known as album quilts — are the focus of the newest exhibition at Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

“Quilts in the Baltimore Manner” opens June 9 in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Gallery and reflects the strong textile industry and innovative quiltmaking styles of America’s largest seaport of the period 1845 to 1855. Religious movements and social organizations created environments within the city and nearby counties that made it easy to share quilt designs and labor. “At least one if not several enterprising Baltimore women sold prefabricated quilt blocks,” said Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg curator of textiles, who co-curated the exhibition. “That’s significant because it combines traditional quilt making with the new era of commercialism and work force specialization.”

Album quilts — usually a cooperative effort composed of individual signed and inscribed blocks contributed by as many as ten or more women — were often intended for an honored recipient within a community, perhaps a bride or a minister. The quilts are tangible evidence of social and kinship networks as records of friends and family connections. Many Baltimore album quilts also were made as gifts for men, revealing organizational affiliations such as Freemasonry and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Still others are associated with individual makers who made the quilts for personal family use.

Each quilt block is decorated with intricate designs appliquéd to a ground fabric. The appliqué technique uses cut-out, shaped pieces stitched to a ground textile in the desired pattern. “Some appliquéd designs are further ornamented with inked, embroidered or padded details,” said exhibit co-curator Kim Ivey, associate curator of textiles. “These sophisticated suggestions of texture and dimension constitute a noteworthy trademark of Baltimore album quilts.”

Appliquéd wreaths, baskets and urns were popular designs for the skillfully created blocks. Some of the album quilts made in Baltimore and adjacent counties feature more complex blocks of architectural motifs representing monuments and buildings found in Baltimore and nearby Washington, D. C. Because some of the block motifs are similar — in some cases identical — it is believed that one or more enterprising women created prefabricated cutout appliqué designs for sale.

Replaced by new fads, the album quilt fashion passed as Baltimore’s prosperity came to a standstill with the worldwide financial “Panic of 1857,” the rise of anti-immigration sentiments and the national divide over the question of slavery.

“Quilts in the Baltimore Manner” will be on view through April 2014 and is underwritten in part by multiple gifts to the Quilt Exhibition Fund. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, Museum Ticket or Good Neighbor Pass.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281