Stitches in Time

In addition to their actual fabric, quilts are often woven with metaphorical material that defines an era.

This vivid quilt top (it lacks batting) does just that, says Tim Hill, who with his wife, Pam, owns the Hill Gallery in Birmingham.

“This is an insanely rare quilt [62 inches high and 72 inches wide] done by an African-American woman from Baltimore, and it’s dated 1936. It portrays color and exuberance, but it’s also declaring time and place,” he says.

The most telling detail that it’s from the Depression era — besides the date — is the eagle with NRA stitched above it. Those letters stand for National Recovery Administration, part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that encouraged fair business practices.

“What we have here is a view of life incorporating reality and fantasy,” Hill says. “The reality comes into play with the sedan, the airplane suggesting moving into the modern era, and the NRA eagle,” he notes. “But the exotic undomesticated animals are filled with fantasy. The repeated tree pattern might suggest Adam and Eve and the tree of life, and the snake winding around a tree might reference some biblical connection.”

Hill says this creation, which is made from pieced and appliquéd cotton, is a Baltimore Album Quilt, a type containing repeated panels that hint at a story. He notes that this ready-for-hanging quilt has an acid-free muslin backing, which was attached by a museum textile specialist. That’s only fitting.

“This is a museum piece,” he says. “It’s bright and fresh, in great condition.”

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