by Suzanne Labry
Comfort and Glory
I have some good advice for anyone who loves quilts and their history: get your hands on a copy of Comfort and Glory: Two Centuries of American Quilts from the Briscoe Center (University of Texas Press).
Written by Katherine Adams, who recently retired from her post as curator of the Winedale Quilt Collection at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, this wonderful book is a treasure. Beautifully designed with great attention to detail and accompanied by research notes, an index, and a glossary, this 320-page volume should find a welcome place in every quilter’s library.
Each of the 115 featured quilts is accompanied by gorgeous color photographs and an engaging essay that describes the quilt’s construction, characteristics, and known history. Augmenting the essays are images of items from the Center’s extensive material culture collection that illustrate and add context
to the descriptions.
Quilt historians will especially enjoy seeing ephemera and objects representing some of U.S. quilting’s grande dames, such as Emma Andres’ dressmaker’s label, Florence Peto’s sewing bird (gifted to Andres), Dr. Jeannette Throckmorton’s wedding photo, a leaflet for cotton batting recommended by Pine Eisfeller, and so on).
Captain Tom, a Tall Texan (72” x 72”) by Shirley Fowlkes Stevenson, will be on display as part of the “Comfort and Glory” exhibit at Quilt Festival in Houston.
If you are coming to the International Quilt Festival in Houston this November 3-6, there will be a special exhibit of quilts form the book on display. The book will be available for purchase there, as well as online from the University of Texas Press.
Adams, a trained historian who also served as associate director of the Briscoe Center for 21 years, combines her academic credentials and research skills with an obvious delight in and love for her subject matter. She arranges the quilts chronologically, with the oldest dating from 1804 and the most recent
made in 2009.
Choosing from among almost 500 quilts in the Winedale collection, which includes contributions from noted collectors such as Ima Hogg, Joyce Gross, and Kathleen McCrady, Adams presents a representative sampling of the Briscoe Center’s holdings and, in the process, underscores the importance of the Center as a significant resource for scholarly quilt research.
Stars with Wavy Sashing, c. 1940s (73” x 87”) by Bertha Shemansky Stenge, will be on display as part of the “Comfort and Glory” exhibit at Quilt Festival in Houston.
In her introduction, she writes, “Selections in the book span more than 200 years of American quiltmaking and represent a broad range of traditional quiltmaking styles and functions. Utility quilts, many faded and worn following years of providing comfort, join glorious show quilts, needlework masterpieces, and ‘best’ quilts saved for
Its egalitarian focus is one of the many charms of this book. Along with spectacular showpieces from the likes of Bertha Stenge, you’ll find quilts made from tobacco sacks, old clothes, and fabric scraps. And Adams does a stellar job of making each one a “star” in its own right, putting a face to the quiltmaker whenever possible, and when it’s not, placing the quilt colorfully against the backdrop of its time period.
It is often said that every quilt tells a story if one knows how to read it. The 115 quilts in Comfort and Glory have found an expert storyteller in Katherine Adams.