Published: September 2, 2003
An international quilt symposium conducted at Historic Deerfield on September 12-14 is the first such scholarly gathering to explore the Old World origins of the textile art, according to Edward F. Maeder, director of exhibitions and curator of textiles at Historic Deerfield. “There has never been anything like this series of lectures and workshops,” said Maeder, who conceived and organized the three-day symposium.
“In Search of Origins: Quilts and Quilting from the Old World, 1400-1800” will feature presentations and workshops by a dozen scholars from Italy, France, England, Holland and America that Maeder assembled with the help of his Rolodex. “These are all people I know, with the exception of one person I haven’t met,” said Maeder. “They are all marvelous speakers and all have done fantastic research in their fields. I wanted to bring in the ‘big guns,’ people who have a lot to say.”
Topics range from “Fifteenth Century Quilted Men’s Garments” to “Eighteenth Century English Patchwork” to “Practical Applications of Quilting Techniques.” The impetus for organizing the event, said Maeder, stemmed from his research into the early period of colonial America when, contrary to the common perception that “everyone was dressed in homespun,” an abundance of textiles were being imported from Europe.
“Hundreds of thousands of yards were being imported into New England in the early 1700s,” said Maeder. “I got to thinking about quilts and petticoats and said ‘Let’s look at the origins, let’s go back 400 years and see how this developed.'”
Thus, from medieval quilted garments, like the clothing that was made to be worn under suits of armor to the influence of Turkish design motifs in textiles up to the Nineteenth Century, Maeder has stitched together a diverse and scholarly series of explorations in an attempt to dispel the myth that quilting is a New England phenomenon divorced from the interaction that was occurring between the American colonies and the Old World. “So much has been distorted with movements such as Colonial Revivalism,” said Maeder. “For example,” he added, “few people know that in 1734 the governor of Massachusetts said he could not make wool for what it cost to import it from Europe.”
Among the symposium’s speakers are several independent scholars, including An Moonan from Holland; Kathryn Berenson from France and the United States; Thessy Schoenholzer-Nichols from Italy; Dorothy Osler from the United Kingdom; Lisa Evans and Meg Grossman from Massachusetts; Lynne Bassett from the Connecticut Historical Society; Deborah Kraak from Delaware; as well as Maggie Lidz and Linda Eaton from the Winterthur Museum; Linda Baumgarten from Colonial Williamsburg; and Charlotte Jirousek from Cornell University.
Maeder, too, is among the presenters. He will talk about “Late Medieval Garments in Works of Art and in Reality, 1400-1600” and present a workshop that demonstrates how Eighteenth Century calamanco quilted petticoats were stitched, finished and worn.
Maeder, who grew up in northern Wisconsin, earned his bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but also studied art history, music and theater. He built a pipe organ in his senior year and his training in theater led him to create the “Patterns Of History,” full-scale patterns from original Nineteenth Century dresses in modern sizes from the collection at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. After stints at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, he joined Historical Deerfield as curator of textiles in October 1999.
He opened his first exhibition, called “The Shape Of Man: Men’s Fashions 1760-1860” in September 2001. It was followed by a highly successful three-day symposium on men’s fashions in which there were 14 speakers and 62 participants.
More recently, Maeder spent three weeks in Bern, Switzerland, earlier this year as a special consultant to the Historical Museum where he began an extensive survey of its Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century costume collection. This will be an ongoing project for the next several years and is expected to result in a publication.
With interests that range from playing the piano, collecting original figurative and costume-related works of art from the Sixteenth through the early Twentieth Century, traveling and both cooking and eating a variety of international cuisines, Maeder’s enthusiasm for imparting the ABCs of quilting comes through when he talks about his decision to build on Historic Deerfield’s exhibition, “Telltale Textiles,” which opened last December, and examine the many sources that have nurtured the art of quilting. “Looking at what we had, I wanted to see how we can contribute to people’s knowledge,” he said. “If you can understand the origins, the later pieces start to make sense.”
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