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Nebraska Gone Crazy!

Crazy Quilts from Nebraska Museums

This exhibit of crazy quilts features thirty quilts, in two rotations of fifteen each, from thirteen Nebraska museums; ample proof that Nebraskan's were as crazy about crazy quilts as the rest of the country. The quilts in this exhibit range from fine works of art to utilitarian bed covers, but all are beautiful in their own way and we hope you enjoy them.

 The American Heritage Dictionary defines a crazy quilt as "A patchwork of pieces of cloth of various shapes, colors and sizes, arranged in no definite pattern" and alternately as "A disorderly mixture; hodgepodge." While the dictionary is correct in that crazy quilts contain pieces of cloth of various shapes, colors and sizes it is certainly wrong in its indication that these quilts were a disorderly mixture. Crazy quilts, for the most part, were elaborately planned and painstakingly decorated pieces of art that conformed to the fashion of the day which embraced opulence and asymmetry.

 Crazy Quilt
Maker Unknown
Circa 1885
90" x 60"
International Quilt Study Center, Ardis and Robert James Collection: 1997.007.0698
 detail
about
20" wide

The crazy quilt fad was short lived, from the 1880s to 1890s by some scholar's accounts, and it is often cited that one of the main influences of this fad was the 1876 Pennsylvania Centennial Exposition. At the exposition, Americans were introduced to crazed ceramics and asymmetrical art at the Japanese Art Pavillion. They were also exposed to an exhibit of ornamental needlework by the Royal School of Art Needlework from England. Asymmetry and ornamental needlework are two integral elements in crazy quilt construction. Other trends that influenced the crazy quilt fad included the excess of ornamentation in Victorian home decorating, the Aesthetic Movement's emphasis on elevating decorative arts to fine arts, and the Aesthetic enamor with Japanese art and motifs. Also influential in the crazy quilt boom was the increased availability of less-expensive, mass-produced, American-made silk.

 Crazy Quilt
Clarissa Palmer Griswold
Made in Sioux County, Nebraska
1886
72" x 56"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Governor and Mrs. Dwight Griswold Collection: 5891-5
 detail
about 26" wide
          Clarissa Palmer came from Minnesota to Nebraska in 1885 as a single woman to homestead in Sioux County, near Harrison. She made this quilt the following year. She painted the flowers on the quilt from wildflowers she found on her claim. She wrote, "That first summer I copied these flowers with oil paints on silk and velvet sent me from home. The crazy quilt I decorated and pieced then is now quite a showpiece to be handed down."
          Clarissa married Dwight Griswold in 1886. Their son, Dwight Palmer Griswold, was governor of Nebraska from 1941-47, and U.S. Senator from 1953-54.
          This style of crazy quilt is sometimes called a "contained crazy," as the crazy work patches are contained with sashing.
 

 Early crazy quilts were show pieces and were commonly draped over furniture in the public rooms of a home. Usually foundation pieced, tied, and without batting, these quilts were commonly made with the most opulent fabrics available and were embellished with elaborate embroidery stitching and fabric painting. Popular motifs were Japanese inspired images of insects, butterflies, fish, flowers, trees and elongated birds. Also used were designs and scenes found in books that were sometimes made into stamping patterns.

Later crazy quilts were more utilitarian and actually used as bedcovers. They featured sturdy wools and cottons, had little to no decorative elements, and were filled with batting of some sort.

 Crazy Quilt
Mary Calvin
Probably made in Cotesfield, Howard County, Nebraska
1877-1910
73" x 68"
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer: 1974.0122.001
 detail
about 34" wide
 

This crazy, or, more properly, Japanese patchwork, so called because the design was originally copied from a bit of pavement in a Japanese picture, is among the crazes of the day. The smallest pieces of silk or satin are available for it, and the more irregular they are the better the effect.

--Godey's Lady's Book, March 1884

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Probably made in Nebraska
Circa 1885
65" x 43"
Durham Western Heritage Museum: 1992.122.15
 detail
about 15" wide

          This quilt features embroidered designs based on the illustrations of Kate Greenaway. Greenaway was a hugely popular illustrator of books and magazines starting in 1880 and many of her sweet illustrations, usually idealized visions of childhood, were made into stamping patterns for embroidery work that could be ordered through magazine advertisements.

 Crazy Quilt
Jennie C. Furguson
Made in Aurora, Nebraska
1870s-1880s
56" x 65"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Dora Ann Tucker, Alexandria
8729-1
 detail
about 22" wide
          This quilt was pieced by Jennie C. Furguson, the mother-in-law of the donor. The Furguson family came to Nebraska from Illinois in 1870 and were in the banking business in Aurora for three generations.

 Although the crazy quilt fad was still going strong in the 1880s, criticism can be found as early as 1884 when Harper's Magazine lamented the over-abundance of crazy work being performed. By about 1910-1920 the fad was all but over although some quilters continued to make "crazies" and advertisements for crazy quilt pieces can be found into the 1930s. Crazy quilting has enjoyed resurgence in the last 20 years or so as modern-day quilters have discovered the creative freedom the construction of a crazy quilt encourages.

As the readers of the LADY'S BOOK may like to know how this very fashionable work is done, we thought a description of it might not be out of place, and would no doubt contain some hints to help them in this pretty fancy work. First get the richest and best scraps of silk you can, for we need hardly say much of the beauty of the work depends on this. Have them every odd shape you are able to devise, and all sizes, from pieces as large as a penny to those that would cover the palm of the hand . . . The next process is to work all the joins in feather stitch, chain stitch, herring bone, etc., and this is usually done in old-gold silk, although colored silk can be introduced for variety if desired. The greater the diversity in stitches the better, but for effectiveness we think nothing equals treble and triple feather stitch, Then if you wish to spend more time upon it, all manner of little devices can be worked on the plain pieces of silk, and on the large ones that may look like bare leaves, small flowers, dots, stars, etc.; and outline bits of figures, faces, art objects, and so on in endless variety. In fact, the whole can be so worked up if desired, even to crests and monograms, that it may be almost covered with embroidery, and become quite a work of art . . .

--Godey's Lady's Book, April 1883


  Ad from Home Needlework Magazine, 1915

 Crazy Quilt
Marie Prokopec
Made in Clarkson, Nebraska
Early 1900s
79" x 68"
Howells Congregational Church Historical Society and Museum
 detail
about 27" wide

          Marie (Tejkl) Prokopec was born in Bohemia in 1869 and immigrated to America, settling in Colfax County, Nebraska, in 1879 with her family. She married Vincent Prokopec in 1886 and they had twelve children. She made this quilt for her brother-in-law, John and his wife Josefa, as a thank you for their help during some hard times. Marie died in 1940.
          In later years Josefa gave the quilt to her nephew, Joseph Krupka, and his wife Emilie for the help they gave her after her husband died. The quilt then passed through the Krupka family until it was donated to the Howells Historical Museum. In 2007 the quilt was loaned to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. for exhibition.

 Crazy Quilt
Dora E. Swanson
Made near Clay Center, Nebraska
Circa 1912
83" x 74"
Clay County Historical Society and Museum: 1984.1.1
 detail
about 50" wide

          The maker of this quilt, Dora Swanson, was a seamstress in the Clay Center area and this quilt is made from cherished pieces of her sewing scraps. Dora grew up on a farm northeast of Clay Center but lived in Clay Center while working as a seamstress. According to Dora's younger sister, Bernice: "Dora made this quilt during the cold winter evenings . . .when we spent much time in one room around the old base-burner" Dora eventually moved to Hastings in 1925 to work in the office of her brother, a medical doctor.
          It was common for crazy quilts to be sentimental reminders of people and past events with the inclusion of treasured pieces of fabric.

The furniture of the room is most pleasing when made up of odd pieces. Willow ware prettily decorated with ribbons and cushioned with plush or crazy patchwork, is always suitable.

--Godey's Lady's Book, August 1884

 Crazy Quilt
Makers Unknown
Made in Custer County, Nebraska
1920
90" x 72"
Custer County Historical Society
 detail
about 24" wide

          Many makers worked together to assemble this quilt as a fundraiser for the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church in the Flatbottom community, south of Ansley, in Custer County, Nebraska.


 
  Ad from Home Needlework Magazine, May, 1914

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Probably made in Sweden
1890s
73" x 61"
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer: 1967.0261.001
 detail
about 24" wide

          Mrs. Emma (Johnson) Collins brought this quilt to American from Sweden around 1895. They settled in Douglas Grove in Custer County by the early 1900s.

 Crazy Quilt
Maker Unknown
Possibly made in Illinois
1930-1940
82" x 67"
International Quilt Study Center, Ardis and Robert James Collection
1997.007.0866
 detail
about 16" wide

 

It is no easy task to arrange the scraps; the difficulty, indeed, has led to the remark that it is rightly called "crazy work," as, apart from that referring to the shapes of the pieces, it applies equally to the sense of bewilderment one experiences at first trying it.

--Godey's Lady's Book, April 1883

 Crazy Quilt
Possibly made by Mrs. James Pollard
Possibly made in Washington County, Nebraska
Late 1800s
79" x 72"
Durham Western Heritage Museum
1993.149.1
 detail
about 20" wide

 

          A common problem with crazy quilts made at the end of the 19th century is the "shattering" of the silk. Silks were made as cheaply as possible at that time and light silks were weighted with mineral salts or gall to give them a heavier feel and more rustle. Unfortunately, these added elements cause the silk to deteriorate over time and there is no remedy for the problem.

 Crazy Quilt
Mary R. Morgan
Made in Nebraska
Circa 1900
79" x 64"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Lucile Hudgens, Central City: 11497-2 

 detail
about 23" wide


           Mary R. Morgan made this quilt using ribbons from Womens Relief Corps (auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic) Conventions. Crazy quilts, like many other quilts, were commonly used to commemorate events or significant life events. The inclusion of silk ribbons in crazy quilts could add a sentimental or even political bent to the piece.

 Crazy Quilt
Maker Unknown
Probably made in Talmage, Nebraska
Circa 1898
39" x 34"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Mrs. Lila Scrimsher, Lincoln: 9714-46

 detail
about 30" wide


        This baby quilt was made for the donor, Lila Scrimsher, who was born in 1898 and grew up in Talmage, Nebraska.


   Ad from Home Arts Needlecraft Magazine, February, 1936
 
 Crazy Quilt
Mrs. L.D. Wolven
Made in Nebraska
1880-1900
73" x 59"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Mrs. Chas Wimer, Ashland: 7683-1
 detail
about 36" wide

         The donor's Great Aunt, Mrs. L. D. Wolven, made this quilt and entered it into two Nebraska State Fairs. It is believed that the two ribbons attached to the corners are from the fairs.

 Crazy Quilt
Mary Finnegan Crawmer
Bartley, Nebraska
Early 1920s
91" x 61"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Wanda Crawmer, Lincoln: 10781-1
 detail
about 36" wide


         Mary Finnegan Crawmer made this warm utility quilt using wool and cotton clothing remnants for the top and cotton flannel for the backing. Although intended for use, unlike most crazy quilts, Mary carefully embroidered all the edges of the patches with colorful floss.

 Crazy Quilt
Ladies Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church
Made in Filley, Nebraska
1893
86" x 69"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Mrs. K.L. McGill, Lindsborg, Kansas
8636-1
M.E. Curchdetail
about 20" wide
         This fabulous crazy quilt was used as a fundraising project for the Ladies Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Filley, Nebraska, in 1893. Twenty quilt blocks were made and nineteen were embroidered with the names or initials of the maker. The twentieth block (in the center) featured the inscription for the Society and the year. Money was raised by selling the privilege of having one's name inscribed on the back of the quilt. Whoever raised the most money won the quilt. The donor's mother, Kate Williams Filley (Mrs. O. E. Filley), was the winner and received the added bonus of having to back the piece. Ingeniously, Kate typed the names of the "benefactors" onto seventeen-inch strips, and laid them so that each maker's square would be backed by her list of names. This quilt won many prizes at the Nebraska State Fair before Kate and her husband left Nebraska for Muskogee, Oklahoma, (then called Indian Territory), around 1900. It won another prize from the New State Fair Association in Muskogee before being retired from competition due to signs of wear.

 Crazy Quilt
Mary Ellen (Boynton) Farnham
Place made unknown
1890-1910
61" x 60"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Mrs. Charles V. Traphagen, Lincoln
9080-13
 detail
about 12" wide
         This style of crazy quilt is sometimes called a "contained crazy," as the crazy work patches are contained with sashing. This particular quilt was made by the donor's grandmother.

 Crazy Quilt
Anna Mallat
Probably made in Nebraska
1901
72" x 72"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Mrs. A.B. Whitmer, Ventura, California
9142-1
 detail
about 14" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Ruth Gartner
Made in Lincoln, Nebraska
1975-1979
84"x 63"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Tim and Colleen Gartner, Oakland, California   13155-2
 detail
about 13" wide
         This crazy quilt was made by Ruth Gartner. Ruth was born in Lincoln and earned her undergraduate degree from Drake University in Des Moines in 1930. In 1968, she earned her Master's degree from the University of Nebraska.
         Ruth taught journalism and English at Lincoln High School from 1956-1974. She was also the faculty advisor for the Advocate newspaper and the Links Yearbook. In 1971 she completed a history of Lincoln High School's first 100 years.

         She moved from Lincoln to Grand Junction, Colorado in 1977. She passed away there December 24, 1999 at the age of 90.

 Crazy Quilt
Mary Gwyer Townsend
Made in Norwalk, Connecticut
Circa 1875
56" x 39"
Nebraska State Historical Society
Source: Yates, Gwyer, Glass, Schlossberg Collection  10248-192
 detail
about 15" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Nancy Barnes
Probably made in Grand Island, Nebraska
1900-1920
87" x 71"
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
1965.0166.005
detail
about 22" wide
         This quilt was made by Nancy Barnes who was born in New York and moved to Grand Island, Nebraska by 1900. She was married to Civil War veteran Eli Barnes who oversaw the Soldiers and Sailors home in Grand Island.

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Probably made in Nebraska
Circa 1884
58" x 58"
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
1980.0003.001
 detail
about 14" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Circa 1870
82" x 73"
International Quilt Study Center, Ardis and Robert James Collection
1997.007.0610
 detail
about 14" wide
 

Crazy Quilt
Sarah C. Schooley
Made in Noble County, Ohio
1890
74" x 67"
International Quilt Study Center, Ardis and Robert James Collection
1997.007.0695
 detail
about 14" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Place made unknown
Late 1800s
47" x 41"
Sarpy County Historical Society
79.1545
 detail
about 15" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Place made unknown
Circa 1890
40" x 38"
Dodge County Historical Society/May Museum
662.211.08b
 detail
about 7" wide
 

 Crazy Quilt
Maker unknown
Place made unknown
Late 1800s to early 1900s
83" x 75"
Nemaha Valley Museum, Inc.
1018.14
 detail
about 15" wide

 Crazy Quilt
Mrs. J. H. "Azuba" Read
Made in Atlanta, Nebraska
Early 1900s
71" x 69"
Nebraska Prairie Museum
 detail
about 16" wide
          This fantastic quilt contains various types of hat-making materials.

 Crazy Quilt with Dresden Plate variation
Anna Porter and Opal Crom
Probably made in Tekamah, Nebraska
Late 1800s to early 1900s
82" x 60"
Burt County Museum, Inc.
2024
 detail
about 17" wide
         The top of this quilt was pieced by Anna Porter and it was backed and tied by Opal Crom around 1993.

 Crazy Quilt
Julie McGuire
Place made unknown
1895
78" x 64"
Burt County Museum, Inc.
3840
 detail
about 19" wide
         Julie McGuire made this quilt for her daughter, Ruth Canfield.

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Museum Exhibits


Interior of a Nebraska home with a crazy quilt at the bottom of the bed.
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2197.PH:2-3 SFN12694


Interior of A. B. Persinger's ranch near Lodgepole, Nebraska around 1910. Note the crazy work pillow on the right.
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2379.PH:2-7 SFN12696


Group of young girls from about 1900 with a crazy work pillow featured on the bottom left.
Source: Stuhr Museum of the Praire Pioneer

 

 


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