An extraordinary tour de force of quiltmaking, this Baltimore Presentation quilt is decorated with vibrant floral wreaths, delicate baskets of fruits and flowers, and assorted birds, all superbly appliquéd onto the plain white backing with multicolored cottons. Although the quilt was for many years attributed to Mary Evans (1829-1916), current scholarship now suggests that the squares were designed by Mary Hergenroder Simon (1808-1877). Mary Simon is thought to have composed and basted quilt squares as kits, which she sold to Baltimore quilt makers between 1846 and 1854. The erroneous Mary Evans scholarship has its origins in the manuscripts of quilt expert Dr. William Rush Dunton Jr. (1868-1966), in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Dunton records seeing seven quilt squares found in a trunk belonging to Many Evans brought to him by Evans Bramble in 1938. A photograph of the largest of these squares, depicting the Baltimore City Springs, carries the notation, "made by Miss Ford" (Mary Evans’s married name). This attribution was published by Dena Katzenberg in 1981 in her groundbreaking exhibition catalogue "Baltimore Album Quilts." For the next two decades, subsequent quilt scholars, auction-house specialists, and dealers eventually attributed more than twenty quilts to Mary Evans based on the similarities of details and style of this single quilt square. In 1990 the Maryland Historical Society acquired the seven squares that Dr. Danton had seen, resulting in the observation that the squares exhibited noticeable differences in style and that at least three different hands had appliquéd six of the seven squares. Scholars now believe that none of the squares in the trunk can be credited as the designs of Mary Evans.
The rediscovery of the seven squares also led to the supposition that Baltimore quilt squares had been designed and distributed as basted squares by several women and were then appliquéd and joined together to form a quilt. A diary entry of Hannah Mary Trimble (I826-after 1878) of Baltimore, dated February 1, 1850, supports this theory. She named Mary Simon as the designer of the two quilts she had viewed that day. One of these quilts belonged to a Mrs. Williams; the second belonged to a Mrs. Sliver, now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Hannah Trimble’s diary entry records visiting not only the Williams and Sliver homes but also that of Mrs. Simon on Chestnut Street, whom she describes as, "the lady who cut & basted these handsome quilts . . ." Recently published period documentation records that Simon, born Anna Maria Hergenroder in Bavaria on May 20, 1808, later moved to Baltimore, where, on June 23, 1844, she married Philip Simon (1813-?). Philip and Mary Simon are listed as living in Baltimore’s Eighth Ward in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 United States federal censuses, where Philip Simon appears as a "carpet weaver." The records of the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore list the birth of the Simons’ three sons and one daughter."
In what is perhaps a repetition of the mistake that was made with Mary Evans, more than a dozen quilts, including the Museum’s, are now attributed Simon on the basis of their style. Beyond the abundance and exuberance of the quilts, they all feature the use of a wide variety’ of imported fabrics, the intricate layering of petal shapes to create dimensionality, the skilled use of color, and the consistent use of small details such as triple bowknots, white roses, and figures with inked features. Simon did not have a monopoly on the manufacture of fancy quilt blocks in Baltimore at the time, however---at least two other makers with similar but distinctly individual styles have been identiﬁed by their work, though their names have not yet come to light.
The designs on Baltimore Album quilts are similar to those found decorating other mediums of the 1840s, including theorem paintings, samplers, transfer-printed ceramics, and printed illustrations. The patterns also share the type of designs found in earlier imported fabrics, such as the baskets of fruits and flowers seen in a Strip quilt in the collection (1990.40.1). Another link closer to home are the repoussé patterns found on the work of the Baltimore silver firm of Samuel Kirk & Son (active 1846-68). Many of their tea sets are adorned with a mélange of birds, fruit, and flowers that echo both the abundance of imagery and some of the same urn, vase, and basket forms found on this quilt. Whereas earlier Maryland quilts were often made with flat, single layer chintz appliqués, the women making these quilts built up the floral-wreath and basket motifs by layering designs out of small separate bits of brightly colored fabric, both solid and printed, to give the motifs a three-dimensionality similar to the repoussé work on the Kirk silver.
Although this type of quilt, in which each square is decorated with a different motif, is commonly called an Album quilt, a true Album quilt is made up of blocks that have been contributed by numerous different makers (see 1988.134). Because this quilt was designed as a complete composition and appears to have been stitched by a single person, most likely to commemorate a specific occasion, it is better described a Presentation quilt. We have no evidence, however, about to whom it was presented or on what occasion. Our quilt is almost identical to the Elizabeth Silver quilt in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which was commissioned by Elizabeth’s parents, and after its completion, presented to Elizabeth as a wedding gift. Because that quilt is inscribed 1849, the same date has been assigned to the Metropolitan’s work. Underneath the Baltimore Museum quilt's central basket is an inscription to Elizabeth Sliver from her parents. Our quilt once had such an inscription as well, but it was cut away before the piece was quilted, and a plain white patch of fabric was inserted in its place. Did another young woman, for whom this quilt was intended, suddenly break off her wedding plans? Because it came into the Museum's collection without a provenance, we may never know the true history of our beautiful Baltimore quilt.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]