Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Quilt, Birds in Air pattern

Annie E. Freshour Schaeffer (1851–1928)
before 1891
Made in Frederick County, Lewistown, Maryland, United States
78 1/2 x 74 3/4 in. (199.4 x 189.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift Fund, 1990
Accession Number:
Not on view
In the years around the middle of the nineteenth century, many quilt makers began to fashion quilts made with designs using red and green fabrics on a crisp white background. Many such red and green quilts, including our Crib Quilt (1991.42), Tulip Quilt (1998.87.2) and some squares of Album Quilts (1988.134; 52.103) feature bold floral appliqués made with solid-color fabrics. It is hard to know exactly why the trend for using only red and green fabrics on a white background became so popular in the period. One possible reason is the greater availability by the middle of the nineteenth century of the bright red colorfast cotton known as Turkey red.
The means of producing this distinctive color from madder root was initially developed in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean (before the eighteenth century, the whole area was known as Turkey by western Europeans unacquainted with accurate maps); the process could involve as many as twenty steps. The secret technique was leaked to the textile producers of England and France in the mid-eighteenth century, and, by the 1840s, the deep red fabric had become a great favorite among quilt makers. At around the same time, better dyes for making colorfast greens were being invented, making it easy for quilt makers to match the Turkey red with a complementary green color. Although most red and green quilts are appliquéd, the strongly graphic quilt seen here, which is immaculately pieced with white, solid red, and printed green fabrics in an overall pattern of
small right triangles, is a more unusual example. Clearly a special quilt, it was made of all newly bought cottons and was barely ever used. It was passed down through three generations before entering the Museum’s collection.
Annie Elizabeth Freshour, the maker of this quilt, was born on May 1, 1851, in rural Creagerstown, Frederick County. Frederick County, an area of rolling piedmont in the western part of Maryland, was settled by a high percentage of people of German descent, as well as many of English descent, but in this quilt it is hard to pinpoint particular characteristics of one tradition or the other. In 1877, Annie married a local boy, Marshall E. Schaeffer (1853-I935). They settled in nearby Lewistown, a town about 40 miles northwest of Baltimore, where Marshall worked as a carpenter. The couple had three children, Franklin Elkanah (1878—?), Hattie Ann Estella (1882-1935), and Lillian E. (1892-1951). Sometime after 1900, the family moved to Frederick, Maryland, where Annie ran a boardinghouse near the Frederick Hospital. The family belonged to the Methodist
Church in Frederick, and both Annie and Marshall are buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery there.
Traditionally, many quilts were made for trousseaus, or are linked in some way to a marriage. When this quilt arrived at the Museum in 1990, it was accompanied by a copy of several undated sheets of information that had been gathered during a Maryland Quilt Documentation Day. At that time it was thought that it had been made by Annie as a gift to her daughter, Hattie Ann, on the occasion of Hattie Ann’s wedding. The sheet recorded that there was a label once attached to the quilt saying that it had been given to Hattie Ann by her mother in 1891, but the first time we examined the quilt, the label was missing. Later, when we began to research the family, we were surprised to find that Hattie Ann didn’t marry until 1902, when she was wed to George M. Wachter (b. 1882) of Frederick. In fact, in 1891, she was only nine years old, an odd age it would seem to receive such a special quilt. Then, by chance, the original label was found—it had been taken off the quilt by the Museum’s Textile Conservation Department when the piece arrived in 1990, and been sitting unbeknownst in a file in that department since then. The label, written by nine-year-old Hattie Ann, shows her evident pride in her newly acquired quilt. The label states in childish script and with somewhat unsure spelling: "hattie A/ E Schaeffer/ this quilt/ Where give/ to me by/ my Mamma/ 1891." It could be that this quilt was actually made much earlier, in preparation for Annie’s own wedding in 1877, and was passed on to Hattie for her own trousseau at an early date, or that Annie made it for no particular occasion in 1891, other than to have a lovely gift to present to her first-born daughter.
Hattie Ann stayed in Frederick and after her marriage became the mother of a daughter, Hazel Marie (1903-2002), as well as several other children. When Hazel Marie Wachter married Abner Lee DeVilbiss (1895-1991) on October 6, 1928, the quilt became hers. The couple had no children and in 1989, Hazel Marie sold the quilt to a dealer who brought it to the Museum’s attention.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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