Appliqué Bedcover, 1853
Sarah Ann Garges (ca. 1834-1887)
Cotton, silk, wool, and wool embroidery
Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Warner Communications Inc., Photo by Schecter Lee, New York
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Stacy Hollander, curator of the American Made exhibition from the American Folk Art Museum in New York. I asked her if there were interesting backstories that they’d been able to discover about any of the works in the exhibition, and she told me about an ongoing mystery that’s literally hidden in one of the quilts on view: one made by Sarah Ann Garges in 1853.
Sarah Ann Garges was born into a Mennonite family and they had quite an active and thriving farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. We discovered that her quilt has a wonderful secret that was revealed to us after it had been in our collection for a little while. It’s a beautiful summer spread. It has the initials of Sarah Ann Garges and the date, 1853. It was most likely made in anticipation of her marriage, which occurred in 1854. It’s appliquéd over the entire surface with images of farm life: with implements and farm animals and figures engaged in farming activities. There are a number of different fabrics that were used to fashion this summer spread and there is no “strange” fabric—one that’s only used in one place and so obviously was done at a different time. Every appliquéd item or figure is identifiable in one way or another.
Elizabeth Warren, a quilt scholar and former curator of the American Folk Art Museum, was working on an exhibition catalog that included this work, and she started to recognize that one of the appliqués was a kind of amorphous shape that made no sense. It was the same fabric that was used elsewhere on the spread, so clearly it was appliquéd a t the same time as everything else. We had a textile conservator shine a light through the spread, and we saw the outline of a figure under that amorphous piece. So the conservator very carefully removed the threads and peeled back the appliqué—and there’s another figure of a man that was covered up.
We simply don’t know who he is or why that happened. Sarah Ann Garges did have a brother who pre-deceased her, but I don’t know that that would have been a reason to cover him up on the summer spread.
So that holds a little mystery for us. I want to go back to what documentation I can find on the family and see if there’s more information to glean.