War and Pieced – Wartime Quilts at American Folk Art Museum

Center Panel Quilt from Vienna
War Quilt Detail 2A

Detail: Intarsia with Soldiers, c1760-1780, possibly Prussia, maker unknown (initials JSJ), wool, all hand sewn, intarsia, photo Tim Connolly, Shoot Studios

War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics is an exhibition to be held at the American Folk Art Museum in New York from September 6, 2017. It will be showcasing a selection of very rare Quilts, the majority collected by Australian international quilt historian and author Dr Annette Gero. Additional examples, many drawn from public and private collections, have never been on view before.

Dr Annette Gero

Dr Annette Gero at the Australian Quilt exhibition at NGV Australia 2016, photo by Carolyn McDowall

The stunning display War and Pieced at the American Folk Art Museum will be the first of its kind in the USA featuring spectacular quilts made exclusively by men using richly dyed wools from military and dress uniforms.

The quilts are featured in Annette Gero’s book Wartime Quilts, which will go on sale during the show. Pieced together from scraps of fabric gleaned from disused uniforms, army blankets and other military materials, many were made by British soldiers, sailors and tailors who were prisoners.

Vienna War Quilt 1

Hungarian Soldier’s Intarsia, 1820-1830, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Maker Unknown, Inlaid wool with embroidery, Collection: Museum of Military History, Vienna

One quilt lent by the Military Museum in Vienna will be a highlight. Annette Gero calls it a showstopper because of the military precision with which it was made. There is the matching of seams, stunning colour combinations and overall, a very pleasing design.

Center Panel Quilt from Vienna

Detail Centre Panel, Hungarian Soldier’s Intarsia, 1820-1830, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Maker Unknown, Inlaid wool with embroidery, Collection: Museum of Military History, Vienna

It was made 1820-1830 by a Hungarian soldier during the age of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and features men wearing the glamorous uniforms of the ‘romantic age’ on foot or on horseback with one old ‘gentleman’ chatting up a lady under a tree and statue. Like all the other quilts, as well as recording human exploits, they also reflect social and cultural development.

War Quilt 2

Detail: Intarsia with Soldiers, c1760-1780, possibly Prussia, maker unknown (initials JSJ), wool, all hand sewn, intarsia, photo Tim Connolly, Shoot Studios

Annette Gero started her own journey when buying her first wartime quilt at a jumble show in England over three decades ago.

Since then as she has hunted for them around the world, they have taken her on an unbelievable and often exciting adventure, another story on its own her colleagues hope she will tell one day.

Her first pictorial quilt dated from 1719 and was purchased in a bookshop in Vienna, certainly not in a fancy auction house as they tend to be today.

It adheres to the tradition of quilts made during wars that were a feature of the Ottoman Empire, the Prussian Wars, Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War (1853-56).

The quilts feature various techniques many historic including intarsia or inlay, which reached a highpoint of technical achievement and sophistication during the sixteenth century.

Quilt 1

Detail: Intarsia with Soldiers, c1760-1780, possibly Prussia, maker unknown (initials JSJ), wool, all hand sewn, intarsia, photo Tim Connolly, Shoot Studios

One intarsia quilt made in Prussia, 1760–1780 features soldiers and musicians and was made of wool, hand-appliquéd and also embroidered.

The technical achievement much of it achieved in times of great duress is impressive.

William Wood

Thomas William Wood (English) Portrait of Thomas Walker 1856 (injured in the Battle of Inkerman) signed and dated, collection: The Royal College of Surgeons, London

Another soldier’s quilt has an incredible layered-applique border and was made in India c1855 of wool from military uniforms and hand appliqued with beads. Yet others feature stories of everyday occurrences while practically they gave comfort to centuries of men during wartime, whether keeping them warm or by keeping them busy in the making.

Delightful scenes of domestic bliss with soldiers standing nearby as an aspect of village life, as they were at the time, are often reminders of home; families and friends, hunting, talking, gathering flowers and military musicians playing feature fondly.

Quilt Glasgow Exhibit

A Mid-Victorian Regimental Bed Rug Exhibited in the Glasgow Exhibition 1865-1866, Before 1865, made in India Sgt Malcolm McLeod, Wool, mostly uniform fabrics, invalid with embroidery, all hand sewn and embroidered, Private Collection photo by Carolyn McDowall

One quilt, which was awarded a medal at the Glasgow Industrial Exhibition 1865-66, became a bed rug for Sergeant Malcolm Macleod and is sure to gather admirers.

Scottish bonnets, brass buttons, sabres, swords and thistles abound with rich red, black, gold and white the colours predominating. They are made of such fabrics as woollen cloth, silk, velvet, linen and hessian and all are hand-sewn.

Another fabulous quilt is thought to have its origins in Prussia. It was made of woollen scraps leftover from Napoleonic era uniforms. As Annette tells us in her scholarly tome, it was found at Shrubland Hall in England, the property of the 7th Baron de Saumarez.

His ancestor the 1st Baron had fought with Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and became Commander of the British fleet in the Baltic where the double headed eagle of Prussian origin was in use.

The show has been curated by Dr Gero and her colleague Stacy C Hollander, deputy director for curatorial affairs and chief curator of the American Folk Art Museum and has been organized in collaboration with the International Study Center & Museum at the University of Lincoln–Nebraska.

AQuilt 1

Golda Jean Ellis (later Neall) Australia (1917–22)–2003 Cheer Up Society cape c. 1941–42 (interior) wool (flannel, felt), cotton, silk, metal, enamel, transparent synthetic polymer resin 51.0 x 92.0 cm Australian War Memorial, Canberra Donated, 2004

Many of the quilts made during World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-1945) were the work of women, endeavouring to keep their children and men folk at the front warm.

Some were made by men in prisoner of war camps where they often did not live to tell their tale, their stories told through the dedication to the work at hand, allowing us to know about their many sacrifices big and small.

Beaded Quilt Besst

Beaded Soldiers Quilt, c1860-1870 India, Maker Unknown, Fulled Wool, Beading, All Hand Sewn, Private Collection, photo by Carolyn McDowall

As Annette Gero commented when the collection was shown at Manly in Sydney, Australia in 2015, the Quilts helped ‘introduce some semblance of beauty and humanity to the blighted world of the combat zone. The quality of design and workmanship is reflected in visually dramatic well made quilts while yet others were “… rich in the memories embedded in their cloth” Annette said.

Quilt 1

A soldier’s patchwork with incredible border, c1855 (pre 1881), India or England, maker unknown, Red, Blue, Black, Green and Yellow felted wools taken from uniforms, all hand sewn, hand appliquéd bead work, textured layered appliqué border, Private Collection, photo Carolyn McDowall

This is a show not to be missed. Often made by more than one person, the Quilts represent the hope of the makers because they reflect the art of our humanity and strength of will to survive.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

Detail War Quilt

War and Pieced

The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics

September 6, 2017 – January 7, 2018

American Folk Art Museum

Organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, in collaboration with the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Lincoln–Nebraska. Co-curated by Dr. Annette Gero, international quilt historian, author, and collector, and Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum.

Programming for “War and Pieced” includes discussions, a bookbinding class, artist-led tours and more! An evening of presentations by scholars moderated by Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections, International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, will explore the historical, material, and cultural significance of quilts from military fabrics.

Speakers include Neal Hurst, associate curator of costumes and textiles at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Jonathan Holstein, independent scholar and author of The Pieced Quilt: An American Design Tradition, with a keynote lecture by Dr Gero.

The 240-page publication Wartime Quilts: Appliqués and Geometric Masterpieces from Military Fabrics by Annette Gero will be available at the American Folk Art Museum Shop and Online.

The exhibition is supported in part by Joyce Berger Cowin, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Ford Foundation, Just Folk: Marcy Carsey/Susan Baerwald, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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