1863 Masterwork Inspires Quilters Around the World
The quilt that inspires quilters around the world will be on its annual display at Bennington Museum starting Saturday, August 31, until Monday, October 14. Brought into the Museum collection 80 years ago, the 1863 Jane Stickle Quilt is only shown for a short time each year due to its fragility; it is comprised of 169 five-inch blocks, each in different patterns and a unique fabric, containing a total of 5,602 pieces surrounded by a unique scalloped border.
Similar sampler quilts were fairly common during this period, with each block typically pieced by a different person. Those in the Jane Stickle’s quilt are intricately pieced – some of the blocks having as many as 35 to 40 pieces – by a skilled needle worker with a mastery of geometry. A native of Shaftsbury, Stickle was born Jane Blakely in 1817. Her father, Erastus Blakely, died in 1831, when Jane was 13, leaving her a quarter of his estate to ensure her continued education. During the 1830s, local academies taught both geometry and painting, skills Stickle clearly mastered and made use of in the creation of her quilt. A talented artist, she was educated and had an artistic eye, raising her quilt from an elaborate bedcover or a feat of needleworking skills to that of a truly remarkable work of art.
“The significance of quilts, with their vibrant colors and precise geometric patterns, goes beyond the comforting, everyday use they received by their original owners. Today, within the context of museums, these early textiles can be re-envisioned as works of art on par with any abstract painting of the 20th century. The Stickle quilt, with its dizzying array of printed cloth patterns and individual block designs, surely embodies this idea of quilt as art,” states Jamie Franklin, curator of the Bennington Museum.
A discovery made this past decade helps explain why a middle-aged woman was able to dedicate a great deal of time to the creation of a quilt. In a report on the Bennington County Agricultural Fair dated October 1, 1863, published in the Bennington Banner, the reporter stated that, “Mrs. J. B. Smith of Manchester, Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Stickles presented each a very extra bed quilt. Mrs. Stickles is an invalid lady, having been for a long time confined to her bed, but her ambition to do something to kill the time induced her to piece this quilt. It contains many thousand different pieces of cloth, no two of which are exactly alike. Upon one corner is marked in plain letters, “made in the war of 1863.” (Note: inscription here is slightly wrong as it accurately reads “In War Time 1863”) Knowing that Jane Stickle was bed ridden helps to better understand how a farm wife at the prime of her life would have had the time/inspiration to undertake such an elaborate, time-consuming project. On October 8 of the same year, the Bennington Banner published a list of ‘premiums’ awarded at the fair. It is noted that the ‘best patched quilt’ was awarded to “Mrs. W. P. Stickles,” with a prize of $2, equivalent to about $40 in today’s money. Modest when compared to her remarkable accomplishment, it is nice to know that Stickle’s quilt was recognized by her contemporaries, and that it continues to inspire quilters to this day.
Bennington Museum is located at 75 Main Street/Route 9 in Bennington. For more information, visit benningtonmuseum.org or call 802-447-1571.