Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Quilt, Four Eagles pattern

ca. 1880
Made in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, United States
77 x 77 5/8 in. (195.6 x 197.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Jack Ellenberger, 2006
Accession Number:
Not on view
In commemoration of the United States’ one hundredth birthday, a great celebratory exhibition took place in Philadelphia in 1876, and proved influential on the arts of all types. A particular type of Centennial-era quilt was made in Pennsylvania that featured American eagles, which were extremely popular design motifs beginning in 1782, when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted by the Continental Congress. Like this example, such quilts include four eagles, one in each corner, their wings outspread and their heads all facing center. Four Eagle quilts with white backgrounds are most often found in the counties of central Pennsylvania, especially Union, Snyder, Centre, and Clinton Counties. Quilts in this pattern with orange or yellow grounds as in this example were made in counties with larger Pennsylvania German populations, such as Lebanon, Berks, and Lancaster. The majority of dated examples are from the 1880s, but quilts in this pattern were made through the 1920s.
The Museum’s Four Eagles quilt came to us with a provenance of having been made in Lebanon County. When quilts made in this pattern were first published in the early 1970s, the uniformity of the layout, which always shows the eagles facing head in, with shields for torsos, surrounding a spoked wheel or star, gave rise to the assumption that they were all made from a pattern that had been printed in a woman’s magazine of the day. Today it is believed that the quilt makers found their inspiration practically in their own backyards. [1] In Pennsylvania in the 1870s, local coverlet weavers were creating woven bedcovers in a very similar pattern. The influence that woven coverlets had on hand-sewn bedcovers of the nineteenth century has yet to be fully studied; the Four Eagles quilt reveals a bit more about this intriguing subject.
1. Jeannette Lasansky, "Myth and Reality in the Craft Tradition," in Jeannette Lasansky et al., "On the Cutting Edge: Textile Collectors, Collections, and Traditions" (Lewisburg, Pa.: Oral Traditions Project of the Union County Historical Society, 1994), 112-15.
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