The European quilting tradition was transported to America at the time of the earliest colonial settlements, evolving from English and Welsh designs. Surviving examples include whole cloth (1) top quilts featuring elaborately embroidery. By the first half of the nineteenth century, this aesthetic expanded into more intricate block styles, adding variation and complexity (2). As the century progressed and cotton and wool fabrics became more affordable, particularly with the advent of aniline (4) dyes, quilting became more common among all classes. Another impetus that lead to the increase in quit making in early America was the shift in family dynamics due to industrialization, where men left their homesteads to work in towns and women’s labor centered on domestic duties, chief among them needlework and quilt making.

Despite the newfound popularization of this artform, it was the exquisite craftsmanship and distinct aesthetic of Amish (5) women in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who wholly revolutionized the genre, ushering in a Golden Age of quilting between the 1870s and 1940s. Originally of Swiss-German origin, the Pennsylvania Dutch, as they came to be known, were religiously devout and valued their rural existence, removed from the ills of modern society. This humility informed many of their design and color choices, resulting in some of the most stunning and visually modern textiles in American quilt making, rivaled only by the African American quilts for their influence and appeal.

During that period, the preeminent aesthetic had been developed by the “English” (3) quilters. While the Amish drew some influence from that precedent, they also chose to deliberately depart from the latest trends in quilting, staying within the framework of their tried-and-true designs. For instance, the Amish typically did not use printed fabrics in their designs and prized pieced quilts over appliqué. The quilts tend to be square and are finished with “[a] wide outer border and a contrasting inner border [which] were used to define the major design field” Holstein (1996, 102). Most consequential was their preference for “traditional” designs over the latest trendy quilt block, employing a repertoire of tried and true designs sewn across generations. As early adopters of the treadle sewing machine (6), Lancaster Amish quilts were made of wool and designed to last. Jonathan Holstein in his essay accompanying the exhibition A Quiet Spirit: Amish Quilts from the Collection of Cindy Tietze and Stuart Hodosh noted:

“The wools were, aesthetically, a particularly fortuitous development in Amish quilt making. These unpatterned materials in the deep, saturated colors the Amish preferred—Colors with the same intensities that appear in nature unpatterned—give Lancaster Amish quilts their distinctive inner glow; they absorb and reflect light very differently from other materials, their surfaces are more diffuse, and, unlike cotton quilts, they can absorb a great deal of light without washing out visually; under heavy lighting, in fact, their colors become richer and deeper.” Holstein (1996, 86)

Add to that a predilection for deeply saturated wools and cottons on dark grounds, and the Amish quilting aesthetic naturally takes on a graphic and modern quality, explaining their popularity with contemporary collectors. These timeless works are just as at home next to a Jasper Johns painting as on an Amish bed. In fact, beginning in the 1970s, the quilts were exhibited alongside works from contemporary artists like aforementioned Johns, Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and other mid-century artists. Viewers at the time could trace the visual origin of important 20th century aesthetic movements in the colors and patterns of the Amish quilts, bringing them into the wider conversation of art. The comparatively inexpensive quilts became a wallet-friendly option for art connoisseurs looking to add a large punch of graphic color to their walls.

Lot 1: An Amish Roman Stripes quilt, $2,000-3,000

“These timeless works are just as at home next to a Jasper Johns painting as on an Amish bed. In fact, beginning in the 1970s, the quilts were exhibited alongside works from contemporary artists Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and other mid-century artists.”

In classic Amish quilt making, there were six influential patterns that were popularized in the second quarter of the 19th century: Center Square, Bars, Center Diamond, Saw-Tooth, Irish Chain, and Sunshine and Shadow. Variations of these six designs, as interpreted in Amish communities across the country, are exemplified in this auction. Of those six patterns, collectors tend to gravitate toward the “Big Three”: Sunshine and Shadows, Bars, and Center in the Square Sunshine and Shadows. Also known as Trip Around the World, the quiltmaker can start the design from the center and work outward, rendering the design in complementary colors radiating from the center. Bars, which can be likened to pop art in its color choices and linear aesthetics, has its roots in the columnar designs of “English” quilts from the first half of the 19th century. Center in the Square, among the most simple and graphic of the early Amish quilts, can be embellished with subtle but complicated embroidery, the perfect vehicle for highlighting the skills of the embroiderer. Few other patterns allow embroidery to become the focus quite the way this pattern can.

As satellite Amish communities were later established in the Midwest, this style of quilt making spread and evolved beyond the borders of Pennsylvania. From the early Center in Square patterns to the comparatively modern Double Wedding Ring block, each Amish community embraced regionally specific quilt designs. Midwestern Amish quilts differed from their Lancaster cousins in the materials and color schemes they chose. “Common characteristics among Midwestern quilts included the following: the use of unpatterned wool and cotton in early quilts, but cotton almost exclusively starting in the twentieth century; the use of a very broad palette; a rectangular shape; the commonly used inner border format…and an innovative refiguring of pieced block designs” Holstein (1996, 97). Ohio Amish quilts exhibit a preference for black backgrounds as one of their most important contributions to the quilt making canon. Black can enhance and emphasize the preferred jewel tones of the patchwork the way typical white grounds cannot, resulting in some of the most interesting and visibly pleasing quilts in the tradition.

The Amish quilts in this collection offer a wide lens on the evolution of the form and demonstrate the thoughtful connoisseurship of the Hodoshes in their careful acquisitions over a period of more than twenty years. They accumulated an unparalleled breadth of examples from the Classic period in Amish quilt making, varied in materials, techniques and color schemes. Simultaneously, they amassed a collection of Modern art, tramp art (7), Mexican silver, and American Indian art all of which speaks to their larger collecting ethos, one anchored in a clean, Modern aesthetic (even when the works of art predate the 20th century style). Above all, their collections honored the quality and beauty of the craftsman’s indelible influence on the history of humanity and our innate need to create.

1 One of the earliest quilt types, inspired by the Indian Chintzes, Kanthas, and Palampore which used a single, large piece of cloth embellished with block printing.

2 Made of a mix of materials and shapes that are sewn together to make blocks and then arranged to create a larger, repeating pattern.

3 The term the Amish called their non-Amish neighbors.

4 Before synthetic aniline dyes were available in the 19th century, dye had to come from animal or vegetal sources, making certain colors expensive and out of the reach of anyone but the wealthy classes.

5 Refers to the people of Swiss Anabaptist origin who came to America to escape religious persecution. Often raised in tight, agricultural-based communities, the Amish first came to America in the mid-18th century and, among the many tenets of their Christianity and lifestyle, favor yielding to God and community, as particularly important.

6 In America, the first treadle sewing machines were introduced in the 1850s and became a timesaver for home and commercial sewers. The Amish readily adapted this new technology and often used it in their quilts.

7 A distinctive woodworking style that began in the latter-half of the 19th century that incorporated scrap woods in chip or notch carvings that are built up with a three-dimensional affect.

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