Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Coverlet

Date:
1844
Geography:
Made in Dutchess County, Washington Hollow, New York, United States
Culture:
American
Medium:
Wool, cotton, woven
Dimensions:
Excluding fringe: 80 1/4 x 103 in. (203.8 x 261.6 cm)
Classification:
Textiles
Credit Line:
Gift of Hazel L. and Saidie E. Scudder, 1986
Accession Number:
1986.175
Not on view
This red wool and undyed cotton double cloth coverlet is woven in two panels and seamed at the center. It has a central floral medallion and four large roses in the field. The border has clusters of grapes and leaves, which alternate with single-stemmed roses on the left and right sides and with three snowflake motifs within the top and bottom borders.
Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, the patterns that were used to decorate Jacquard coverlets were usually composed of repeating units. From the 1840s through the 1870s, however, patterns were more likely to be focused on one large central motif. This change may have come about because large looms, on which a coverlet could be woven in a single wide panel, were more readily available by the late 1830s, and because the fly shuttle was by then in regular use. Although woven single-panel coverlets dated as early as the 1820s do exist, until as late as the 1850s, many weavers continued to use a narrow loom, which produced a coverlet of two narrow panels that had to be seamed in the center. This use of the older-type loom may have persisted because a narrow loom took up half the space in the weaver's workshop. It was certainly more versatile; in addition to coverlets, the narrow loom could also be used to weave the thirty-five-inch-wide strip carpet that was the standard of the day. The weaver of this particular work knew the dictates of fashion and attempted to achieve the effect of wide-loom coverlets while still weaving on a narrow loom.

The new taste in decoration that occurred in mid-nineteenth-century America also contributed to the change in coverlet motifs. The subdued and dignified qualities of classical decoration had been highly admired during the early decades of the nineteenth century, but by mid-century, flamboyant naturalistic patterning had come into favor. The design on this flowered coverlet, for example, was the height of fashion when the piece was made in 1844, and is very different in appearance from that of our New York State coverlet (see 67.33) that was woven sixteen years earlier.

A weaver's ability to provide this type of up-to-date product was primarily dependent on whether or not he could purchase prepunched cards for his Jacquard mechanism. Although many weavers designed their own patterns and punched their own cards, prepunched cards were available through suppliers in the major East Coast cities. By the 1840s, more weavers were taking advantage of the ready supply of new patterns; this coverlet's design and that on the 1846 piece (1989.264.1) woven by Absalom Klinger of Pennsylvania were most likely produced by prepunched cards. This change and the migration of weavers farther and farther into the American West as well as north to Canada make it harder to distinguish regional pattern characteristics after the late 1830s.

A series of clues has made it possible to identify Hannah Mariah Shelden, for whom the coverlet was made. The coverlet has many attributes that point to New York State manufacture: the doublecloth structure, the simple red and white coloring, and the absence of fringe. The coverlet is inscribed "HANNAH MARIAH SHELDEN AD 1844 WASHINGTON" along the top and bottom edges. Although no modern maps show a town of Washington in New York State, the donor said that the piece may have belonged to a relative who lived in Dover Plains, Dutchess County, New York. It was ascertained that there was once a town near Dover Plains called Washington Hollow. Because the coverlet was woven in 1844, both the 1840 and 1850 United States Censuses were checked for Sheldens. The 1850 Census gave an entry for a Shelden family living in was called the Dover District of Dutchess County. In 1850, Hannah Shelden was twenty-six years old and married to a farmer named Harrison Shelden (1815-1853), then age thirty-five. They had three children living in the household: a nine-month-old infant, a two-year-old, and a thirteen-year old, who could have been hired help, or Harrison’s child by a previous marriage. It is quite possible that Hannah Shelden could have married in 1844, when she was twenty, and that the coverlet was made as a wedding gift.

[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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