Florence Peto, Quilt Expert

Florence Peto (1881-1970) was a renowned quilt authority who played matchmaker between great quilts and museums, lectured with a flip-chart of patterns, and talked about quilts on WNYC radio shows. She owned the quilt that this rendering from the Index of American Design presents. The quilts pictured below are attributed to Mary Totten or her sisters of Staten Island. Esther Lewittes, a supervising artist and researcher for the IAD, worked closely with Peto to learn about geographic and temporal quiltmaking characteristics. Peto was not an official employee or consultant for the IAD, but she did seem to connect quilts in private hands to the New York City project. Eventually, Peto sold this quilt to the Coopertown Farmers’ Museum. Barbara Brackman has researched the quilts made by the Tottenville sisters, writing about them in a series of blog posts.

Charlotte Winter, “Sunburst,” Index of American Design, National Gallery of Art. Original quilt attributed to Mary Totten. Own in 1938 by Florence Peto and pictured in her book, Historic Quilts.

One of several quilts attributed to Mary Totten. Florence Peto identified this quilt for inclusion in the Index of American Design.
Irene Schaefer, one of several renderings of Mary Totten’s quilt (image below), 1936. Soon after Schaefer painted this quilt, Florence Peto helped broken its acquisition by the Smithsonian, where it has been since 1938.
Mary Betsy Totten, “Rising Sun Quilt,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History. See detail images of this extraordinary quilt here.
Frontis to Florence Peto’s Historic Quilts, 1939.