Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Crib Quilt, Alice in Wonderland patterned

Marion Whiteside Newton
Made in New York, New York, United States
65 5/8 x 45 in. (166.7 x 114.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edward C. Moore Fund, 1945
Accession Number:
Not on view
Blocks of yellow printed cotton alternate with appliqued blocks showing scenes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland on this crib quilt. The appliqued blocks include multicolored and patterned fabrics, and some of the details are in stem-stitch embroidery The blocks are machine stitched together, but the appliqué work and quilting are done by hand. The piece is diamond quilted overall in a four-inch grid.
At the turn of the twentieth century, interest in quilt-making had slackened considerably. Some people attribute this to the visual saturation that occurred during the Crazy quilt era. But in the 1920s, however, the American patriotism brought about by the successful waging of World War I revitalized the supposedly "colonial" practice of quilt-making, and it continued to flourish through the Depression, when it was considered symbolic of the American characteristics of thrift and self-sufficiency. By the 1940s, quilt-making was becoming accepted as an art form, and the Metropolitan commissioned this Alice in Wonderland crib quilt to be made for its collection. During the process of appropriating money to purchase the quilt with funds from the Edward C. Moore, Jr. Gift, which was designated at that time for the purchase of objects of modern decorative art, a curator explained why the piece was necessary to the collection:
"The Textile Study Room receives constant inquiries about quilting. As we own no examples of contemporary work, this purchase would provide a useful piece for study purposes. In this quilt, the techniques of embroidery, applique, and quilting are represented. The drawing is competent, and the subject matter amusing. Mrs. Newton, who designed and made this quilt, is considered one of the outstanding craftswomen in her field." [1]
According to a 1944 article by Mary Anderson in the "New York World-Telegram," Marion Whiteside Newton ran a successful quiltmaking business, first organized in the 1930s, specializing in children's quilts that were usually appliquéd with storybook themes. Mrs. Newton (whose name was sometimes published as Marion Cheever Whiteside) designed all her quilts at her workshop at 1212 Fifth Avenue, but once the business began in earnest, she no longer sewed them herself. The above-mentioned newspaper article notes: "Now Mrs. Newton has streamlined the process. She makes all her own designs. Two assistants transfer them to the fabric squares. Colors of cotton pieces are selected for the appliqués, and the blocks with instructions are sent to her sewers. Back they come to be assembled, filling and backing added, and the quilting and finishing done by specialists." Newton's quilt designs were published in magazines such as "McCall's Magazine" and "Ladies Home Journal," and the latter ran a series on the Storybook quilts in issues from 1949 through 1961. She popularized her work further by marketing ready-to-sew kits. Her more expensive ready-made quilts were sold by special order only through Saks Fifth Avenue.
Because interest has been primarily focused on nineteenth-century quilts during recent years, this quilt has been somewhat ignored. A new appreciation of the quilts of the first half of the twentieth century has arisen, however, and reappraisal of this work reveals it to be among the fresher and more pleasingly designed quilts of its era.
Memo dated February 28, 1945. MMA departmental files.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: embroidered in chain-stitch in red cotton thread in lower left corner: 1945 / Marion Whiteside Newton
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