Elegant Geometry Exhibit – Taft Museum of Art – Post 1

Medallion quilt from the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Seen at the Elegant Geometry exhibit at the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio
I like to give myself presents.  After all, I know exactly what I want and I don’t judge my own quilt obsession.  In fact, I think it is perfectly normal.  You do, too.  That’s what I like so much about you.
My special gift this year was a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, to see the Elegant Geometry quilt exhibit at the Taft Museum of Art.  If you are a long-time aficionado of antique quilt study you might have seen this exhibit at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, of which these quilts are part of their collection.  There was also a catalog that went along with the first exhibit but those are all gone now.  I have one but never saw the first exhibit.  I guess you can say I “read the book but didn’t see the movie.”  Unlike most books, however, the visual version is far superior.
This exhibit blew me away.  The museum is gorgeous and the staff were the nicest museum staff I’ve ever encountered.  I could do a whole post on them but I didn’t take their pictures.  I thought it would be weird.  As I was saying, it was a great venue and the quilts were breathtaking.  It also passed the all-time measure of what makes a good exhibit…they allowed photos.  Hooray!  After all, if you can’t post it on Facebook, did it really happen?  I took 262 pictures so this will have to be a multi-post topic for the blog.
Medallion quilt detail – crossed laurel leaf block in Turkey red solid and green print.
I’m going to start with a Maryland quilt.  At least the info card says it is possibly Baltimore origin.  I have to agree.  When I first saw the quilt I immediately thought it was from my area.  That crossed laurel leaf border was very popular – as a quilt in itself and as a block in Baltimore album quilts – in Baltimore in the 1840s-1850s.  I personally haven’t seen it used as just a border and that is something that raises questions and makes this quilt extra interesting.
Center medallion detail – mosaic patchwork style c. 1830s
The style of the center of the quilt is called mosaic patchwork by the museum and quilt researchers.  I doubt the pieces were called “hexies” back then and “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” is a name from the 1930s.  Po-tay-toe/Po-tah-toe for me because I’m only talking to me.  Guess it matters more if you want to talk quilts with the experts.  Anyway, the style and fabrics of the medallion part of the quilt were popular a decade or two earlier than the red and green applique border.  The museum’s educated guess is that the center was constructed earlier and someone – same or different quilter – may have finished it in the 1840s or 1850s with blocks and fabrics that were more popular at that time.
Detail of applique branches and broderie perse flowers
I find the corners of the center medallion interesting.  I consider them an applique rendition of arborescent chintz.  In case you are not already aware, arborescent chintz comes from the Tree of Life motif and is a fabric with printed (often thick) gnarly tree branches.  It was popular in the 1830s.  These applique branches are not very rough and gnarly but the width of the main branch is reminiscent of the thick arborescent branches.  The large broderie perse flowers are also reminiscent of the flowers that appear on arborescent chintzes.
This is an example of arborescent chintz from a quilt dated 1837.  Seen on eBay.
The medallion style of the quilt would have been more popular in the 1830s time period than the 1850s.  It appears the quilt was started as a medallion because there is a center mosaic pattern set on point and framed with the applique corners.  For those familiar with quilts from this era, can’t you just see more broderie perse and perhaps some simple pieced blocks framing the center or an applique Turkey red dog tooth border?  It was, in fact, finished as a medallion quilt which might indicate a quilt completed in the earlier part of the 1840s-50s estimated time period since medallions were being made but their popularity was waning.  The center and borders don’t “go” as well as those constructed with coordinating fabrics might but the result is still very striking and definitely gets antique quilt lovers thinking about it.
Gratuitous antique fabric picture #1
Gratuitous antique fabric picture #2
I added these extra pictures because who doesn’t want more antique fabric photos?  It’s also interesting to note that you can still see the pencil quilt marking in the lower picture.  I highly doubt this quilt was ever washed because many of the chintzes still have their glaze.  I you want to learn more about the quercitron yellow fabric in the top photo, see a blog post on by Barbara Brackman here.

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  1. It just keeps getting better doesn’t it!! What stunners and the use of the crossed laurel leaf block in the borders is incredible. It looks like the same block from the Benjamin Biggs Wedding quilt many of us have been working on…think that quilt was made in Frederick County Maryland. Looking forward to seeing more from your visit to the exhibit! Thank you for the yummy close ups too.

  2. I couldn't reply to your message via my email so I hope you get this note. You should definitely go! It is a decent sized exhibit to make the trip for the quilts worthwhile but the rest of the museum is very nice, too. If you can combine with another exhibit then what are you waiting for?!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and images from this exhibit. I have been tossing around the idea of going and now I definitely want to go. There is also an exhibit in Columbus, Ohio…thinking I should try to do both in the same trip.

  4. This is such an amazing quilt! I love that there is so little background space. Jam packed with so much applique….it's fantastic! Thanks for such great pics….loved the close ups! Can't wait to see more of this exhibit!

  5. Thank you for this great post, Taryn, and for the excellent photos. I'm glad you don't use Blogger's Lighbox or I wouldn't have been able to enlarge the photos to see the great details. I was curious how the quilter ended the green stems on the outer border and was able to see that detail.

    The center with hexagons is interesting to me because the rows and columns of white hexagons are askew and not parallel to the sides nor aligned in either direction to the corners. It didn't stand out to me until I came to your photo of the detail of the applique branches and broderie perse.

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