Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Coverlet

Maker:
Harry Tyler (1801–1858)
Date:
1839
Geography:
Made in Jefferson County, New York, United States
Culture:
American
Medium:
Wool, cotton, woven
Dimensions:
83 1/2 x 75 1/2 in. (212.1 x 191.8 cm)
Classification:
Textiles
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1993
Accession Number:
1993.369
Not on view
Coverlets made by Harry Tyler are perhaps the most recognized and appreciated examples of classic New York State doublecloth coverlets. More than three hundred examples of his work are known to be extant. This coverlet is an example of the Tyler workshop’s early products made between 1834 and the early 1840s, which are known for their appealing trademark corner block showing a large and handsome lion. The field is decorated with stylized floral, star, and snowflake designs set in a diagonal grid pattern, while the border has clearly representational fruit trees alternating with a picket fence. Tyler coverlets made from the mid-1840s on, (see 1997.343), have corner blocks with American eagles surmounted by stars; according to family history, this change took place because Tyler’s oldest son Elman opined that the lion, the symbol of England, should be replaced with a more patriotic American motif. Over the twenty-four years that Tyler was weaving, from 1834 to 1858, he made small (and sometimes large) changes to the look of the corner blocks and field designs of his coverlets each year in order to keep up with the popular design trends of his day.
Tyler was born in Connecticut, but moved as a youth to Milford, Otsego County, New York, where he was married. In 1830, he and his wife moved to Boston, Erie County, and then in 1832 to North Adams, Jefferson County, where he tried farming for a year. But according to his granddaughter, Etta Tyler Chapman (1861-1962) who wrote an article about his work in "Antiques" in 1928, his dream was to be a weaver. So he finally settled on seven acres of land in Butterville, Jefferson County, and set up his workshop. Chapman recounts:
"He not only invented his looms, but made every part of them himself. These he installed in the front room of the house, usually known as the parlor, with some of the machinery in the room above over the looms. These pieces of mechanism were complicated and intricate. One loom was for ingrain carpets and one for coverlets. He himself drew all of his designs, (which were many and varied) except the fruit pattern and the eagle design, which were executed by Elman, his eldest son. These patterns were cut in heavy paper, which was perforated somewhat after the manner of music rolls for player pianos."
Chapman may have overestimated her grandfather’s inventiveness, since looms for this type of weaving were common at this point in time, and Tyler would have had no need make his looms entirely from scratch. Some of what Chapman wrote may not be completely accurate; she wasn’t born until after her grandfather’s death, and probably learned all that she wrote from her father Elman Tyler (1829-1909) long after the workshop was closed. However, it is interesting that she mentions a Jacquard mechanism, using heavy paper cards with perforated patterns attached above the loom. It would be instructive to learn if Tyler used a Jacquard mechanism from his earliest days of weaving, or whether his first, comparatively simpler, coverlets employed a different type of patterning device. Her description of "some of the machinery being in the room above" the parlor seems possible; if the ceiling of the parlor wasn’t very high, it is likely that Tyler had to cut through the ceiling above into the upper room in order to accommodate the Jacquard mechanism. According to the same article, it took about a day to weave a complete coverlet, and each cost between $2.50 and $2.75. Tyler did not provide the materials to be woven, the spun cotton and wool yarn, but he did provide dyeing services. Most of the known Tyler coverlets were woven out of indigo blue dyed wool and white cotton, as was typical of New York State coverlets. But there are few wonderful examples of dark red and white Tyler coverlets; the wool in these was dyed using cochineal, a dye made from the bodies of small insects that was imported from Central America. Since the cochineal dye was more expensive than indigo, Tyler charged extra for a red coverlet.
We know that this coverlet descended in a family with roots in Upper New York State. However, the first owner of this coverlet--Cheresa Wever--has defied identification. The seller of the coverlet assumed it had come down to her via her great-great grandfather, Anson Rockwell (1805-1885). Rockwell and his wife Hannah Thorpe Coye Rockwell (1805-1902) were both born in the town of Butternuts, Otsego County, New York, a fair distance from Tyler’s workshop in Jefferson County. Tyler did spend time as youngster in Milford, Otsego County, but no connection can be firmly established by that. Rockwell became a carpenter; after the birth of five daughters, the family moved to Wisconsin in 1858, where the coverlet stayed in an old painted chest for more than one hundred years before it was rediscovered in the 1960s. There are no family records of a relative named Cheresa Wever, and she has not been found through genealogical and census searches, so at the moment, it is unknown how the coverlet came to travel west with the Rockwell family.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Marking: above lower border, six times: JEFFERSON. CO. NY; in corner blocks: CHERESA / WEVER / 1839
Cheressa Wilcox Weaver (June 10, 1817-January 13, 1909) was born in Jefferson County, New York, where she married George Weaver (1812-1896) around 1836. By 1860 they had moved to Jefferson County, Wisconsin, where their son, George “Bert” Weaver (1862-1889) was born and where they spent the rest of their lives. This coverlet descended from Cheressa Weaver to her brother Silas Philetus Wilcox’s son, Clinton H. Wilcox (1847-1895); to his son, John Leonard Wilcox (1878-1938); to his daughter; Annette Lewis Wilcox Thompson (1906-1987); to her daughter Susan Thompson Lee (1918-2014), who sold it to the Museum.
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