Velvet & Silk: The Palmer Family Quilts

May 28, 2022 - September 11, 2022

Ilgenfritz Gallery

This exhibition showcases the Museum’s collection of quilts made in the 1880s-1890s by the Palmer Family women: Frances Prentice Palmer and her granddaughters Laura and Jessie. These vibrant, handmade, whimsical quilts include a “biscuit quilt” with raised square shapes and several “crazy quilts.” 

The term “crazy quilt” refers to a type of quilt that was popularized in the late nineteenth century by the availability of luxury fabrics and the influence of Japanese ceramics, which many Americans, including quiltmakers, saw at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. To create “crazy quilts,” quiltmakers did not follow traditional or established symmetrical patterns but instead created their quilts more spontaneously with scraps of luxury fabrics in jewel tones, such as velvet and silk. Many of these quilts included embroidery, varied stitch work with different colors of thread, memorabilia, applique flowers, and sometimes lace. Intended for display, the quilts were thin, and often incorporated sentimental items like fragments of wedding dresses. As heirlooms, they told a family’s history much like a cherished photo album.

The Museum received the Palmer Family Quilts as a generous gift from Cynthia McCaw Palmer whose husband, Richard Palmer, was the grandson and nephew of the quiltmakers. The Museum has been caring for these exquisite examples of textile art and women’s art since 1997.