NHA Collections Work Leads to Rediscovery of Amazing Quilts

QuiltsNANTUCKET, MA – As part of a comprehensive project to care for its extensive costume and textile collections, project specialist Jennifer Nieling at the Nantucket Historical Association has recently examined the significant holdings of quilts and coverlets, totaling about seventy-five pieces. Going through every object in this collection for the first time in decades has revealed a number of unique and exciting pieces, including a silk patchwork quilt made by Lucretia Coffin Mott.

The large quilt made by Mott, a Nantucket-born Quaker, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist, was donated in 1967 by Mrs. J. G. Richard Heckscher, a descendant of the famous feminist, from Devon, Pennsylvania. It is T-shaped to fit over a four-poster bed, and from top to foot measures nearly ten feet. The quilt is completely hand sewn and is pieced with many small blocks of fabric, including diamonds, triangles, and a sunburst motif at the foot of the quilt. It was likely made from scraps of old garments, as many of the pieces are modest silks and drab colors, which were frequently used in Quaker dress. The year 1833 is embroidered at the top.

“We undertook a complete inventory of our costume and textile collections because we suspected we had wonderful things, we just weren’t certain what we had,” said Michael R. Harrison, Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator of the NHA. “We have been excited nearly every day to discover one remarkable item after another. The quilts are just the tip of the iceberg of when it comes to textile artifacts we can now display and interpret for the people of Nantucket.”

Other highlights of the collection include nineteenth-century quilts made using eighteenth-century fabrics, including several that incorporate fanciful French toiles and one using an Indian palampore, a large pictorial textile with a hand-painted tree-of-life motif. The quilts and coverlets tell stories of trade, technology, community, and politics—from “Friendship quilts” that display the signatures of their makers to a quilt made from English fabric smuggled through the Nantucket blockade during the War of 1812.

These rarely seen collections have now been fully cataloged and are available for researchers and the public to view in the NHA’s online collections database at www.nha.org. The NHA’s costume and textile project is made possible by a Collections Stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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