This dark blue wool and undyed cotton double cloth coverlet is woven in two panels and seamed at the center. It has large floral medallions in the center and borders of eagles with outspread wings alternating with Masonic symbols. The eagles on the top and bottom edges are more clumsily designed than those along the right and left sides.
At first glance, this blue and white double cloth coverlet seems nearly identical to another example in the Museum’s collection (see 25.127). They are both of the type of woven coverlet that traditionally has been attributed to Orange County New York weaver, James Alexander. Both are patterned with the same medallions, and each has a border that alternates eagles and Masonic symbols. Distinct regional differences exist in the wool and cotton coverlets woven in the United States during the years between 1820 and 1850, when they were at the peak of their popularity, and these two works are good illustrations of the New York style.
The earliest New York weavers who set up businesses in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island were immigrants from the British Isles. They had been trained in Britain as "scotch carpet" weavers, an apprenticeship that lasted at least seven years. This training in carpet weaving explains both the usual structure and the appearance of New York coverlets. For the most part, they are made of undyed cotton and indigo-dyed blue wool that has been double woven for strength and weight, much like woven carpets of the early nineteenth century. The large medallions in the central fields of these two coverlets look very much like the designs found on English and Scottish carpets of the period. It is important to note that weavers such as James Alexander did not weave coverlets exclusively. They also supplied the community with table linens and floor coverings, which were woven in a similar manner.
James Alexander was born of Scottish parents in Belfast, Ireland. He trained there as a weaver for seven years before his arrival in the United States in 1798. He settled in Little Britain (near Newburgh) in Orange County, New York, where he farmed and wove fabrics of all types. The New York State Historical Association at Cooperstown owns Alexander's account book, which covers the years from 1798 to 1831. This rare document lists the type of textiles woven by Alexander. In the early 1820s, he began to record that he was weaving "flowert coverlets." Through the course of the account book, it is written that he received 174 orders for this type of work, exemplified by this coverlet. Alexander's account book also lists his clients, what he was to weave for them, and in the case of his coverlets, whose name was to appear in the corner block. Although Mary Ann Wood's name does not appear in the account book, this coverlet was made for her and is identical to other documented examples from Alexander's workshop. Alexander coverlets are woven in two strips, which are seamed together. The rather clumsily formed eagles at the two ends have come to be known as a trademark of Alexander's work. The corner blocks hold simple name and date inscriptions. Alexander hired other weavers to help with his thriving business; under the heading of weaving done by an R. Lockhart in 1828, Alexander listed that thirty-one yards of unspecified fabric were woven for a "T Wood," perhaps a relative of Mary Ann Wood, in July of that year.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: [inscribed in four corner blocks]: MARY ANN / WOOD / DEC. 4 / 1828