The Strong’s Artifact of the Month: Quilt

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Christmas 1863, by Thomas Nast, Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, NYDuring the holiday season, my loved ones call me a Grinch and a Scrooge. But I am not; I’m just overwhelmed by all of the stuff. For example, the United States produces 1.76 billion candy canes each year. In 2010, the Emirates Palace displayed a Christmas tree with a net value of $11,026,900. That same year, a Christmas tree in Belgium shined with 194,673 lights. Americans mail more than 1.5 billion holiday cards each year to unsuspecting friends and relatives. For centuries, many Americans have felt the same way I do about excesses during the holiday season. Most early Americans did not even acknowledge the existence of Christmas. In the mid-17th century, Boston went so far as to outlaw the celebration and if a person attempted to spread holiday cheer, then he expected to pay a fine of five shillings.

I am not advocating for the demise of any holiday. I actually quite enjoy festivities such as sharing a potluck meal or stuffing a stocking with little trinkets. I believe that we should delight more in life’s simple pleasures. The Strong’s collections present an array of artifacts that demonstrate how people play when having seemingly little (just look to the National Toy Hall of Fame inductees the stick or the cardboard box). Or consider a beautiful handmade quilt I love from The Strong’s collections. Quilt, Gift of Elizabeth F. Cheney, Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, NY
This 1930 quilt, a gift of Elizabeth F. Cheney, illustrates an important trend. In the early 20th century, Americans felt overwhelmed by industrialization, rapidly evolving technologies, and then the Great Depression (sound familiar?). Many longed for and romanticized about more simple pastimes. This new interest in American history materialized in architecture, home décor, and crafts, especially quilts. Earlier quilts were often made from scraps of material and women made the coverings out of a necessity to keep their families warm. Women of the early 20th century created traditional cotton and wool patchwork quilts like those made by their great-grandmothers. Straightforward patchwork, unadorned fabrics, and plain backgrounds, like the simple snowflake presented here, characterized the quilts. Magazines promoted old-school patterns but also catered to a modern audience as they sold pre-stamped and iron-on designs for busy housewives. This quilt top was made at home, but finished by a professional quilter.

When I look at this quilt, I am reminded of my favorite holiday pastime. I curl up under a blanket with a plate of fresh baked Gingerbread men by my side and watch the snowfall out my window.

 

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