The Hurley Family Album Quilt
One of the stars of Patchwork from Folk Art to Fine Art is a quilt the Newark Museum purchased just last year. It’s an amazing thing – I think the finest example of its kind – and it’s never been exhibited anywhere before. It’s a Victorian album quilt, made in 1867 by the members of a large Monmouth County farming family named Hurley.
Album quilts have always been a favorite of mine, and particularly their New Jersey variations. They are quintessentially sentimental and romantic, and the best album quilts are richly colorful. The Hurley quilt has this all in spades, and it is in miraculously good condition. Of special interest to me is the oversized wreath block at the center. I’ve never seen this design quirk, which takes the space of four blocks and offers a dramatic (if asymmetrical) centerpiece to the quilt. As an added bonus, the signatures that are used to assign each “page” in the album to a specific person are remarkable examples of ornate penwork…not just names, but names surrounded by flowers and scrollwork in India ink. I’ve never seen a New Jersey album quilt with such grandiose signatures.
The quilt came directly from a member of the family, along with a three-ring binder crammed with genealogical and biographical information about the Hurleys, complete with photocopies of daguerreotypes, histories and a wealth of detail. In spite of all this, we’re really not sure why the quilt was made. Our best guess is that it was an engagement gift to one of their daughters, Annie, a year before her marriage.
Every curator dreams of finding treasures that no other museum has. Our Hurley Family Album quilt is one of those great finds.
Patchwork from Folk Art to Fine Art runs through December 31, 2011. To find out more about this exhibition, visit www.newarkmuseum.org.
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