Crazy Quilt – Patchwork

By Bertha Semple

Index of American Design


National Gallery of Art

Most IAD renderings of quilts were painted to show the covers as two dimensional objects. Artists approached the paintings in various ways, sometimes replicating a quadrant of the quilt, sometimes the whole quilt, sometimes with a pull-out detail, or even just squares of the various fabrics featured in the piecing. Here, Bertha Semple shows the sculptural quality of the quilt by painting it draped over a modern leather easy chair. In doing so, she shows how the “Victorian parlor throw,” as crazy quilts are sometimes known, crosses into a twentieth-century design scheme. The IAD intended to be a resource for contemporary designers, and by exhibiting the quilt in a modern setting, this is a rare example of an IAD rendering depicting how one might translate nineteenth century design in a new mode.

The datasheet also reveals an unusual clue about this quilt: its date and attribution were verified by the maker herself, Mrs. A.H. Sanborn, who made the quilt in 1883. Most IAD quilts were documented by family descendants or museum professionals. Mrs. Sanborn lived in Berkeley, and reported that she made the quilt while living in San Francisco. Based on its date, she was likely in her 70s when Semple arrived to paint her quilt. It’s easy to imagine it draped on this leather chair in a Berkeley bungalow.