The Museum was given this lively Baltimore quilt in 1988. It is a true Album quilt, since almost every block is signed and dated by a different person, unlike our other, more sophisticated Baltimore quilt (1974.24) which is thought to be the work of a single maker. Most of this Album quilt's blocks were appliquéd by members of the Brown and Turner families. Some of the blocks are decorated with motifs that are typically found only on Baltimore quilts, such as the central eagle and flag, while other designs, such as those that employ the cut-paper technique, can be seen on Album quilts from all regions of the country.
A bequest from Margaret Brown Davis Potvin (1897-1987), the quilt entered the Museum’s collection with almost no known history. The only information came from the donor, who mentioned to the executor of her will that her grandmother Margaret Brown Turner Schenck made the quilt. After much research, we were able to ascertain why it was made and to identify almost all of the people who contributed blocks.
By counting back two generational spans of about twenty-five years each, we reached the conclusion that Schenck must have been born around 1850. Because most of the blocks were dated between 1846 and 1852, she would have been too young to be the quilt's maker, and it was therefore surmised that Mrs. Potvin's great-grandmother must have made the quilt. Having noted the Brown family's tradition of naming their girls Margaret (Mrs. Potvin's mother was also named Margaret), we assumed that the Margaret L. Brown who signed the quilt (block IB) must have been Mrs. Potvin's great-grandmother. The only man's name on the quilt was Francis Turner (1816-1858; block 3B), and since we knew that Mrs. Potvin's grandmother's last name was Turner, we assumed that Margaret L. Brown married Francis Turner around the time the quilt was made and that the quilt blocks were given to her as engagement presents.
Two facts shattered this theory. First, a closer examination of the quilt revealed that the blocks were attached to the sashing by machine stitching. Although invented in the 1840s, sewing machines were not widely available before the 1860s. Therefore, it did seem more likely that Mrs. Potvin's grandmother Margaret Brown Turner Schenck had actually made the quilt (i.e., joined the blocks and quilted the layers together). Further genealogical research revealed that Francis Turner had married Mary Brown (1818-1871), not Margaret L. Brown, on November 14, 1839. Mary Brown Turner (block 2E) was Margaret Potvin's great-grandmother. The birth date of Margaret Brown Turner Schenck was subsequently found to be July 31, 1847, and we now theorize that the quilt blocks were given to Mary Brown Turner by her friends and family in celebration of the coming birth of her child. For some reason, she never joined the blocks together, and the daughter in whose honor the blocks were made completed the quilt perhaps twenty years later.
Because the blocks arc signed in many different types of handwriting, it can be assumed that most were actually made by those who signed them. We have already identified Mary Brown Turner as the recipient of the quilt and the block made for her husband. Similarities in fabrics and stitching techniques cause us to believe that Francis's block 313 was most likely made by his mother, Susanna Mumma Turner (ca.1787-1854), who also contributed block 5E and probably made unmarked block 2C as well. Block 4C, which shares many fabrics with Susanna's blocks, is signed by Mary Brown Turner's mother, Jane Lockard Brown (1791-1867).
Mary Brown Turner's sisters also contributed to the quilt. They were Margaret L. Brown (ca. 1822-1849; block 1B), Helen Brown (block 2D), and Jane L. Brown Creamer (1820--?; block 213). Susan Amanda Turner (block 5B) was Francis Turner's sister.
Four very similar blocks on the quilt that are decorated with wreaths. Three are dated March 18, 1847, and one is dated March 9, 1847. Mary Brown Turner's block 2E is one of these, as is her sister Margaret's block 1B. The other two blocks of this type, 4B and 5D, are signed with the names of Mary's two young daughters, Susan I. Turner (ca. 1842--?) and Mary E. Turner (ca. 1845--?). Margaret L. Brown's block shares fabric and fine sewing technique, as well as the same handwriting on the inscription, with the blocks signed Susan I. and Mary E. Turner, and we assume therefore that she made these two blocks for her sister's quilt.
Blocks 4A and 3C, which are much more intricately appliquéd than the others, were made by Elizabeth Morrison and Mary Ann O'Laughlen, respectively. The names of both these women also appear on other Baltimore Album quilts. Elizabeth Morrison has been identified as a member of the same Methodist Church as Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, who was probably the teacher of a number of professional and semiprofessional quilters. A spectacular quilt now in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum was presented to Elizabeth Morrison by her quilting group, called the "Ladies of Baltimore." Blocks signed by Elizabeth Morrison found in other quilts are of uniformly high quality, close to the standard of the work assumed to be by the professional designer Mary Simon. This is also true of blocks signed by Mary Ann O'Laughlen, the stepdaughter of Samuel Williams, a lay preacher connected with the Exeter Street Methodist Church, the church attended by the Browns and the Turners. O'Laughlen's name appears along with the names of members of the Brown and Turner families on a quilt now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which was made for her stepfather. Although not as delicate, her blocks are made in the same style as those attributed to Mary Simon. One must surmise, therefore, that there may have been a number of professional/semiprofessional makers of Baltimore Album quilts, and that it is a mistake to automatically assign one name to every high-quality quilt of this type.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: signed with the following starting from top left: Elizabeth Morrison, Margaret L. Brown, Ann Brown, Rachel D. Taylor, M. A. Hook, Elizabeth D. Dobler, Jane L. Creamer, Helen Brown, Mary Turner, Francis Turner, Mary Ann O. Laughlen, Mary A. Dobler, M. A. H., Frances Leivis [?], Susan I. Turner, Jane Brown, Agnes A. S. House, Mary E. Doretee, Susan Amanda Turner, M. W. Conal, Mary E. Turner, Susanna Turner