Quilt History Snippets - April 2022
By Kathleen L Moore
At first glance it would seem that a study of one early regional newspaper from the rural and agricultural center of the country might not hold much promise as a source of early twentieth century quilt history. That would be shortsighted in this case as Stehlik’s article is a well-researched piece that includes no less than 93 informative endnotes. Stehlik’s research and reporting on the conditions and historical context of the period gives meaning and authenticity to the facts and data she presents.
Stehlik begins by noting that between 1921 and 1941 the Omaha World-Herald “published twenty-one series quilt patterns and sponsored ten quilt shows and contests.” [p. 56] She briefly summarizes the homesteading era and the development of Omaha by 1920 into a “thriving regional center” akin to its sister city, Chicago, and the surprising number of small and ethnic newspapers across the state and region. [pp. 57-58] Setting the domestic scene, Stehlik notes that there were about 200,000 automobiles in 1920 Nebraska, but electricity was the exception rather than the norm and the existence of paved or gravel roads were very minimal. Consequently “Horse-powered farm implements remained the rule rather than the old-fashioned exception.” [p. 58]
All this is context, but Stehlik notes it does not necessarily mean that the early twentieth century quilt revival was driven by the need for “an inexpensive hobby and inexpensive blankets.” [p. 58] She quotes Barbara Brackman and Cuesta Benberry in asserting that the revival was more a consequence of the activities of periodical press and “commercial quilt ventures” of the time. [p. 58-59] Also, “Commercially designed patterns were available to the quiltmakers of the 1920s and 1930s through the newspapers and magazines that were as accessible as the mailbox of even the most remote settler.” [p 59] What follows is detailed descriptions of pattern development and publication…Quaddy Quilty by Thornton Burgess and Ruby Short being a very early example. She names and dates and describes pattern names including design series and designer names that followed into the 1920s and 1930s as well as describing the development and growth of quilt contests and exhibitions in the 1930s noting the commercial benefits to the sponsors as well as the prizes attached to the contests. A surprising graph on page 71 shows the striking contrast between the number of quilts entered in the World-Herald contests versus those entered in the Nebraska State Fairs between 1929 and 1940. Such striking contrast seems to confirm the earlier implication that print media may have had much to do with the development of the quilt revival of the early twentieth century. Further it suggests a role of print media in the “’homogenization’ of quiltmaking in this era. [p. 82]
Stehlik’s article is well researched and well written and could serve as a model for extended research and reporting on the influence of major regional and national publications on quilt pattern development and the quilt revival, not only of the early but also the later twentieth century. There are very likely regional preferences to be found and described that were influenced by specific publishers and publications.
We’ll review another article from volume 11 next month. If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. You can also access an online version at www.quiltindex.org. Once at the website, go to “collections”, then follow the links to “AQSG,” “View collections”, “View all records in this project”. You can then select a specific volume you want to look at and you can now print copies. Also, recent editions may not yet have been digitized but may be available for purchase from AQSG. Sorry to say, for several good reasons, images are not available in the online versions. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.