The Zadock Pratt Museum has just released a coloring book for adults, essentially a collection of historical quilts accompanied by text and drawings that provide a unique perspective of the region’s settlement history. Inspired by the 2018 exhibition titled “Undercover Stories,” the book was funded by The A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation and The Nicholas J. Juried Family Foundation. The exhibition, the brainchild of Carolyn Bennett, the Museum’s Executive Director, included thirteen quilts, all of which are also included in the book along with an additional thirteen from the Museum’s historical textile collection. All text and drawings are by Suzanne M. Walsh, who curated the 2018 exhibition. The Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave assisted with fact checking. The book is endorsed by Dr. Michelle Delaney, Assistant Director for History and Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, among other notable endorsements.
After the 2018 exhibition closed, there was a spontaneous desire to keep the quilt stories alive, which is how the coloring book idea came about in 2020. The preservation work to keep the quilts intact is a tedious process that requires re-folding in acid free paper every three to six months. Volunteers at the Museum help keep the tradition alive. There is a vibrant community of quilters in the area that met regularly before the pandemic. They often helped at the Museum with the preservation efforts.
Quilting has been described by scholars as “the art of necessity.” When textiles were scarce, women patched old blankets, coverlets, and table runners with cloth they had available and ready to use. European settlers brought this practice to the New World, and it flourished here and took on a new life. A utilitarian activity at first, quilting did eventually become an American folk art. American Folk Art Museum in New York City has an impressive textile collection, and has begun the New York Quilt Project to locate, document, preserve, and create an archive for New York State quilts. Dr. Jacqueline M. Atkins, a curator who worked at the Folk Art Museum, wrote the introduction for the The Zadock Pratt Museum Coloring Book, and shared “the thrill of the hunt, as one is never sure just what new and exciting quilts, patterns, and designs will turn up in addition to renewing acquaintances with many old favorites.”
As part of her research, Walsh was able to date the quilts and also found fascinating details about their making. During the Civil War, the region stopped using cotton from the South and that is when imported cotton was largely introduced to the Catskill Mountains. After studying the quilts, Walsh felt inspired to draw them in a way that best reflects their personality. “The art dictated itself,” she explains. She followed the thread and each quilt led to a different approach and style whether whimsical, serious, or as a cartoon. For each quilt Walsh had to make the decision whether to use pen or ink, or what other approach the style might have required. They are all different and carry fascinating stories.
For instance, the Lost Ships quilt cover was made in 1893 by Frankie Drum, a thirteen-year-old girl who learned the art of quilting from her grandmother. Quilting was a required skill for girls in the Catskills around that time. The project took two years to complete and includes 8,460 individual little pieces of fabric. If you look closely, you will see a horseman depicted in one of the patterns, suggesting Frankie’s love for horses.
The Crazy Quilt bedcover resembles a Surrealist painting by Marc Chagall, who incidentally had a studio in the Catskills in the 1940s. The “crazy quilt” pattern reached the height of its popularity in the 1890s, the Gilded Age in America, when the industry provided an immense variety of fabric choices in color, prints, and textures. Dr. Atkins, a quilt expert, explains that American women’s fascination with the crazy quilt was inspired by the Japanese kimono which was introduced to the American public at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia.
Another popular pattern throughout the 1800s was the octagon. The Octagon quilt included in the book is made of 352 individual octagonal pieces in different colors and patterns. As Walsh explains, the octagon has held a spiritual significance for centuries signifying “the infinity of eternal rebirth.” The octagonal shaped houses also gained in popularity around the same time, and there is still one in existence not too far from the Pratt Museum.
From 2013 until 2020 Walsh had been tour guide, exhibition designer, curator, and archivist at the Zadock Pratt Museum. Undergraduate work in the arts and post-graduate work in early childhood education, including American Montessori certification, became her background credits for the many years in the professional theatre world that followed, working both on stage and behind the scenes in costuming, scene building, playwriting and children’s puppet theatre production. Walsh’s life-long love for fabrics, their history and women’s fashion has coalesced in her serendipitous collaboration with all the people who had an impact on the Pratt Museum’s Historical Quilting Designs Coloring Book. She sums up her experience in one attitude-altering sentence: “Every single one of these wonderful quilts really deserves a history book unto itself.” Walsh is currently working as an independent artist, author and art history consultant.
The book is available at the following retailers: Blooms & Fabrics in Margaretville; Roxbury General in Roxbury; Carrot Barn–Schoharie Valley Farms in Schoharie; The Conglomerate in Middleburgh; Catskill Mountain Country Store in Windham; Windham Pharmacy in Windham; Taconic Orchards in Hudson; Mahalo Gift Shop in Catskill; Plaid Palette in Cherry Valley; The Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave; The Jefferson Historical Society in Jefferson; The Gilboa Museum and Nicholas J. Juried History Center in Gilboa; What The Soap & Company in Prattsville; Young’s Ace Hardware in Prattsville; Prattsville Diner, and the Zadock Pratt Museum.
The book can be ordered by phone at (518) 299-3395, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail at Pratt Museum, PO Box 333, Prattsville, NY 12468. To learn more, visit zadockprattmuseum.org.