Crazy Quilt, 1885
Japanese vases and fans on this quilt testify to the craze for “Japonisme.” Other motifs popular in the 1880s seen here include old-fashioned children taken from popular illustrators, and favorite designs of the Aesthetic movement (peacock feathers, a sunflower, and even a portrait of Oscar Wilde).
Amelia Trowbridge (1858-1931), Melrose, Massachusetts
Silks with linen lace, silk and metallic embroidery thread, cotton backing
Gift of Helen L. McGilvery
“CHILDREN LEAVING SCHOOL,” 1880
Ralph Caldecott, The Three Jovial Huntsmen, Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library Digital Collections
The crazy quilt era was also a golden age of illustration. Kate Greenaway remains the most famous illustrator of old-fashioned scenes today, but others were equally popular at the time. Crazy quilts were dumping grounds for popular culture trends, and old-timey children, now generically called Kate Greenaway figures, appeared on numerous “crazies.”
“MY AESTHETIC LOVE,” 1881
Alfred Concanen and Stannard & Son, lithographers, Charles Sheard & Co., publisher
Color lithograph and ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum, # S.3931-2013
Many crazy quilts motifs were taken from the Aesthetic Movement. This design movement rejected mass-produced goods and poorly-designed revivals of older eras, preferring patterns inspired by the natural world. Its adherents also embraced new (to the West) Japanese forms and motifs.
Look for many of the Aesthetic Movement’s—and crazy quilts’—favorite motifs on the cover of this comic song’s sheet music: sunflowers, peacock feathers, lilies, and Japanese ceramics and fans.
OSCAR WILDE,” 1882
Photograph by Napoleon Sarony, New York
Oscar Wilde, the most famous Aesthetic Movement adherent, toured the United States in 1882 and 1883 to widespread publicity, with both photos and caricatures published in newspapers. His long hair, velvet jacket and breeches, and effete manner fascinated all, and offended many strait-laced provincial Americans. Amelia Trowbridge may have attended his lecture in Boston in 1882. The same embroidery appears on another “crazy,” suggesting a commercial pattern source.