Recently, charter member Rupert Charles Loucks gifted the center with a collection of quilts and quilting ephemera which had belonged to his paternal grandmother, Alice Virginia Loucks Bennett.
She was, in his words, "an avid needlewoman" who made quilts for her family in the winter months when the farm didn't require as much attention. These pieces were from the first half of the 20th century, for the most part. She died in 1955 and hadn't made quilts for the last few years of her life. Her quilt making coincided with the Colonial Revival period, which was characterized by a romantic image of the colonial past. Many women decorated their homes in antiques and reproduction pieces to evoke the "simple life of yesteryear." Rural life became synonymous with virtue. A widespread interest in folk art and handicrafts developed, along with the arts and crafts movement in the 1920s and 1930s. As the fashion for quilts grew, quilt making became part of a large commercial network.
The quilt block in the photo was a standalone piece dating to the 1930s. The name of the pattern is "noon and light." It was a "Nancy Page" pattern, designed by Florence LaGanke Harris of Cleveland, Ohio, and was published by a newspaper syndicate. The Nancy Page column was introduced on Feb. 24, 1927, and her "Tuesday quilt club" began in May 1932. I believe this was a practice piece to try out the pattern, and it wasn't satisfactory - it doesn't lie completely flat as it should, and so it was never used to actually make a quilt. Mrs. Harris was a trained home economist who taught in several schools and colleges in New York City; Oakland, Calif.; and finally in Cleveland, where she wrote her household column beginning in 1927. She also authored or co-authored a number of home economics books and cookbooks.
Among a recent donation of quilts and quilting ephemera to the Fenton History Center was this “Nancy Page” pattern block, “noon and light.”
Another piece in the collection is a pillow cover in a lozenge shape of an iris patterned applique. According to the donor, this was made by his grandmother; a great aunt, Laura (Hoyt) Blodgett; and his cousin, Edith (Blodgett) Weisbrod - and again was probably a piece made to try out the pattern. This one was successful and a quilt was made in the pattern - though it was not among those donated in this collection. It was made in the winter of 1937-38, and was a pattern designed by Ruby Short McKim who was the Art Needlework editor for Better Homes and Gardens. She published a number of designs from her studio in Independence, Mo. This was one of her most well-known patterns. She was born in 1891 and attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts in New York City from 1910-11, taught art in the Independence Public Schools and her first published series of patterns were in the Kansas City Star on May 7, 1916.
The commercialization of quilting started with The Ladies' Art Company from St. Louis, Mo. - one of the first firms to publish quilt patterns, with inexpensive books of quilt patterns and instructions. They were generally traditional patterns which company researchers discovered. Women artists and designers developed many new patterns as well. Companies which manufactured quilt supplies - cotton fabric, thread, batting and etc. - advertised heavily in publications targeted to a female readership. Contemporary new colors were also used - pastels of lilac, raspberry, turquoise and green.
See HOMETOWN, Page D3
The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or email@example.com to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
The Ladies' Home Journal, House Beautiful, Needlecraft Magazine and Good Housekeeping were all publications which contributed to the spread of quilting lore. Additionally, publications targeted to rural women were The Progressive Farmer, The National Stockman, Farm and Fireside, Prairie Farmer, and Hearth and Home. Many newspapers by the 1920s began to feature quilt columns in Saturday and Sunday editions, either locally produced or syndicated columns. By 1934, more than 400 newspapers had such columns.
Among the designers featured were those mentioned above; Nancy Page and Ruby Short McKim; as well as Marie Webster, who designed floral patterns; Rose Kretsinger; Ann Orr, who used pastel floral patterns on light backgrounds; and Laura Wheeler, whose designs were syndicated through Old Chelsea Station Needlecraft Service of New York, which were popular because they were pieced, thus encouraging the use of sewing scraps in quilt making. Quilt kits were introduced during the 1920s and 1930s as well by a number of firms.
Published patterns, quilt kits and successful quilt designers all represented a new era in quilt making, where patterns became associated with artists rather than evolving through historical anonymity. By the 1940s the quilting fad began to diminish, not to gain national attention until the 1970s and the country's bicentennial. Nowhere else do quilted bedcoverings show the degree of skill and originality seen in American quilts. Indeed quilts are more than decorative covers - they are works of art, showing the creativity of American women.
Some information for this article was extracted from The American Quilt Story by Susan Jenkins and Linda Seward, c. 1991, Rodale Press.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.