Baltimore Album Styles 1 & 2

Style 1: The Quintessential Baltimore Album                    Shortcut to Style 2:

In Style 1, the appliqué is stamen upon petal upon leaf upon stem, and butterfly upon basket upon trivet, and sometimes the embroidery almost upstages the appliqué.

Style 1 quilts are associated with Baltimore's Methodist community, since several were made to be given to Methodist ministers, and Methodist women were the first to make them.

European pietra dura — stone inlay (below, left) — was clearly an influence for BA designs, but only three to six people are responsible for creating the patterns.

The catalog for a traveling exhibition of BA quilts in 1980-1981 posited that the source of inspiration was a Methodist woman named Achsah Goodwin Wilkins (1775-1854).

"She seems to have been extraordinarly sensitive to original and complementary ways of arranging printed cottons, the catalog reads. "Her exceptional creativity is evident in the composition of many of the Baltimore Album Quilts."

Another of the prominent Style 1 designers, Mary Evans, was Wilkins's protegé. Both were part of a Methodist sewing group called "Ladies of Baltimore."

Today, Mary Simon seems to be the most celebrated Style 1 designer. At least one researcher credits Simon with inventing Style 1. Not everyone agrees. In any case, the quilt pictured at right, when it was disassembled for conservation, had Simon's name penciled on the back of a block.

Simon emigrated in 1839 with her daughter, her husband following in 1844. She was Catholic and also had some Jewish ancestry. A three-looped blue bow was one of her hallmarks.

BA quilts are considered authentic only if they were made in Baltimore by someone who lived there or given to someone who lived there between 1846 and 1852. Only about 300 were ever made.

That's why it was so startling when the authentic John Wesley quilt was discovered in 2006 in the attic of a Asbury Village, a Methodist retirement center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The blocks include a portrait of John Wesley done partly in brown ink, a woman surrounded by flowers, and a "busy yard"—an outdoor domestic scene showing lots of activity. The busy yard was once an embroidery sampler motif.

The "Only in Baltimore" criteria makes sense to academics and collectors, but for quilters, BAQs from the distant past are part of a continuing history. That's thanks to Elly Sienkiewicz, quilter and teacher, whose personal warmth, generosity, and charisma were instrumental to the BAQ revival that continues today.

Today's BA-style quilts are spectacular in themselves. They are more accurately drawn, more colorful, brighter, and, arguably, as pleasing to the eye as the originals. BA-style quilts are sometimes displayed at local quilt guild shows. The larger shows in Houston, TX (Quilts, Inc.) and Paducah, KY (American Quilter's Society) regularly include spectacular new BA-style quilts.

Given the level of detail in these quilts, photographs are painfully inadequate substitutes. If you want to see the originals from the 19th century, check out the museums below, all of which have one or more authentic BA quilts in their holdings.

Be sure to check whether the quilts are on display before you visit.

Baltimore: the Maryland Historical Society, the Lovely Lane Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art
Lincoln, Nebraska: the International Quilt Museum
Paducah, Kentucky: the National Quilt Museum
Washington, DC: the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum and the Smithsonian Institute
Newport News, Virginia: the Mariner's Museum
New York: the American Folk Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Houston: the Museum of Fine Arts
Winterthur, Delaware: the Winterthur Museum
Boston: the Museum of Fine Arts (not currently on view)
Bath, England: the American Museum

Again, call ahead to make sure the quilts are on display.

Privately owned BA quilts: Photographs of quilts in private hands are available at The Quilt Index, an academic website.

NOTE: A technical glitch keeps us from posting captions under the photographs on this page.
Quilt photograph, above right: Baltimore Album in Style 1. (Maker not recorded). ca. 1850. From DAR Museum, Permanent Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, http://quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=46-7A-7B. Accessed: 06/13/2016
Photograph, above left: An example of pietra dura. Christie's by way of Pinterest.

Style 2: Folk Art, Refined

Style 2 has one foot in Maryland and the other in Pennsylvania. Its key influence is a German tradition of precision papercutting, called schnerenschnitte, that quilters still use today for appliqué blocks.

In Style 2, it's all about the silhouette, and the silhouette is both fanciful and complex. These quilts are a tour de force of appliqué. It is more difficult to manipulate the seam allowances on tiny points and narrow curves than it is to build layers of more rounded shapes.

Look at the block third from the left in the bottom row of the quilt in the photograph. You have to know what you're doing to make that. In fact, none of the blocks on the quilt is easy enough for a beginner.

Compared to the other Baltimore Album styles, Style 2 colors are simpler, usually emphasizing green and red.

The style's kinship to folk art is clear, but it is anything but primitive. Motifs look less like a heart punched in tin on a pie safe than like quilts of the Hawaiian tradition or, for that matter, the elegant curves of William Morris, the father of Art Deco.

Modern BA-style quilts usually include papercut blocks, but the most popular successor to schnerenschnitte quilts may be Dear Jane quilts. The style stems from a Civil War-era quilt made by Jane Stickle of Vermont. Six or more of her nephews were away fighting for the Union at the time she made the quilt, which is inscribed "In Wartime" on the back. The quilt has 169 square blocks with one-color geometric designs. Here's a photo: https://benningtonmuseum.org/portfolio-items/1863-jane-stickle-quilt/ .

Photograph: Unnamed, undated Baltimore Album quilt from the collection of the Maryland Historical Society (1994.9.1) Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Richard H. Green. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Maryland Historical Society.

Article by Pam Weeks, https://benningtonmuseum.org/library/walloomsack/volume-11/stickle-jane-the-stickle-quilt-in-war-time-1863.pdf