"Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland and Virginia"

Written by: Alden O'Brien, DAR Museum Curator of Costumes and Textiles
December 3, 2014

“Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland and Virginia” is now open, and it’s getting rave reviews. The Museum’s new exhibit includes 36 quilts, twice what we can usually fit in the gallery.

The DAR Museum collection is particularly strong in quilts of this region, probably because of our location. Some recent donations of gorgeous early quilts of our two neighboring states gave me the idea that we could put together a terrific exhibit, almost entirely from our own collection. One reason we were able to even consider this exhibit is because so many Maryland quilts have been “adopted” for conservation by Maryland Daughters under the fundraising project led by Linda Guest, State Museum Chair. Additional quilts slated for the exhibit were “adopted” by the Massachusetts DAR, and other members nationwide. The Chicago Chapter and Illinois Society donated toward the photography of the quilts for our gorgeous website and exhibit catalog (coming soon). It’s literally true that we couldn’t do this without the generosity of member donations!

An example of a recent donation: In 2011, new member Elizabeth Guevara of Maryland donated this family quilt (at right) made by Octavia Jerusha Mannakee about 1860. It is reunited with Octavia’s sister Mary’s album quilt, donated in 1945, and shown together for the first time in 150 years. Mary’s quilt dates to 1851.

The DAR Museum has one of the top ten quilt collections in the United States, and it has an excellent reputation for care of its textiles. The Museum has a state-of-the-art storage area for quilts and costumes, with a dedicated HVAC system to maintain the optimum temperature and humidity for storage of textiles. Each quilt is individually packed, with folds padded with acid-free tissue to prevent creases, in acid-free boxes. When in need of conservation, our quilts and other textiles are  conserved by experts in the field.

We are offering a special tour of “Eye on Elegance” with docents who volunteered to take extra training to become exhibition group tour guides. This tour is free for DAR chapters and non-members will pay an $8 fee. Email us at museum@dar.org if you are interested in scheduling a tour. The special tour consists of a 45-minute guided tour of “Eye on Elegance” and a 45-minute guided tour of the Period Rooms. 

The exhibit is also online in a beautiful presentation with all the same information as is on the gallery labels, with zoomable photos of every quilt. The website can be accessed from the DAR website or directly at http://eyeonelegance.dar.org/ .

You can see more quilts in the South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont Period Rooms. In addition, halfway through the exhibit we’ll rotate three near “twins” of three of the quilts on view in the Main Gallery. We own two quilts by Frederick, MD, quilter Catharine Markey Garnhart, and we have three more on extended loan.  The DAR’s quilts will go back into storage in March for a “rest,” and we’ll bring out two more Garnharts. The same is true of our twin quilts of Amelia Lauck of Winchester. So, try to visit us twice to see three additional gorgeous quilts! If you can’t come to the Museum, you can see all the quilts online at eyeonelegance.dar.org!

Currently on view is this masterpiece by Amelia Heiskell Lauck , donated in 2006 by Sally Ann Lauck Harris, a DAR member from Virginia. A second, nearly identical quilt, made by Amelia goes on view in March.

We have two school programs in conjunction with the exhibit—“Commerce of Quilts” and “Patterns and Shapes”-- and school groups have already begun booking them.  We are also planning a symposium on March 13-14, 2015, “Eye Opening: Early Research on Maryland and Virginia Quilts,” featuring leading quilt scholars speaking on aspects of early quilts of this region. You can register online here.

The Museum Shop is full of new products based on the quilts in the exhibit—I don’t think we’ve ever had so many things from our own collection available. From aprons and tote bags to luggage tags, magnets, key rings, and Christmas ornaments, not to mention our silk scarf and jewelry arriving any day now, we have a gorgeous array of gifts for you and everyone.

Quilters and non-quilters alike are loving “Eye on Elegance” for the beauty of the quilts. The beautiful and visitor-friendly design of the space is also getting special attention. The Museum worked with staff from Assemble, a DC-based exhibit design firm, who helped to redefine the gallery for “Eye on Elegance.” Lights are properly low for textiles, but you don’t feel you’re in a tomb. Labels are at a good height, and the writing is large and legible!

We hope you will take the trip to Headquarters to see “Eye on Elegance,” which is open through September 5, 2015.


“Eye on Elegance” in DAR Museum’s Main Gallery

“Eye on Elegance” in DAR Museum’s Main Gallery

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Two pieced quilts in “Eye on Elegance”

Two pieced quilts in “Eye on Elegance”

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Mary Minor Sims Lester (1800-1888). Gift of Daniel McGehee, Robert B McGehee, and Mary McGehee Busha. Conservation funded by Carroll Campbell Strickland

Mary Minor Sims Lester (1800-1888). Gift of Daniel McGehee, Robert B McGehee, and Mary McGehee Busha. Conservation funded by Carroll Campbell Strickland

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Octavia Jerusha Mannakee Williams (1834-1887). Gift of Elizabeth E. Guevara

Octavia Jerusha Mannakee Williams (1834-1887). Gift of Elizabeth E. Guevara

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Mary Mannakee Nicholls (1827-1916). Gift of Loris Sand Catchings

Mary Mannakee Nicholls (1827-1916). Gift of Loris Sand Catchings

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Online exhibit main page of eyeonelegance.dar.org

Online exhibit main page of eyeonelegance.dar.org

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Example of one quilt and its information from eyeonelegance.dar.org

Example of one quilt and its information from eyeonelegance.dar.org

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The quilt above zoomed in to the central medallion on eyeonelegance.dar.org

The quilt above zoomed in to the central medallion on eyeonelegance.dar.org

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Amelia Heiskell Lauck (1760-1842). Gift of Sally Ann Lauck Harris

Amelia Heiskell Lauck (1760-1842). Gift of Sally Ann Lauck Harris

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Just some of the Eye on Elegance merchandise in the Museum Shop.

Just some of the Eye on Elegance merchandise in the Museum Shop.

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Baltimore Album quilts in “Eye on Elegance”

Baltimore Album quilts in “Eye on Elegance”

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