Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vintage Art Deco Quilts

Century of Progress
Aurora See Dyer

When outlining posts on Art Deco I initially despaired of being
able to include any vintage Art Deco quilts.
But then I remembered I have notebooks full of them
--- all inspired by the 1933-4 Chicago Worlds Fair.

I got interested in the quilt contest at the fair because I had quite a collection of souvenirs from that event. Above the fair logo, a comet representing the Star Arcturus.

A tiny coin purse

A belt buckle

The two-season fair was the source of
uncountable inexpensive knick-knacks,
which used to cost a quarter at thrift shops

Inspiring Merikay Waldvogel and I
 to write a book on the quilt
contest sponsored by Sears.

The Spectrum
Edith Morrow Matthews

The huge cash prizes attracted thousands of entries,
many of them quite moderne.

Detail of quilt by Emma Mae Leonhard
showing a Century of Progress in fashion
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center
and Museum

Sears issued a call for a special category of
quilts commemorating A Century of Progress,
the fair's theme. Quilts expressing the theme were
eligible for a bonus prize.
This was the heart of the Great Depression
and the cash prizes were huge.

Linda and Clarence Rebenstorff

Many of the quiltmakers looked to
the fair's advertising for inspiration.

Progress meant up-to-date modernism.
The posters are
classic Art Deco

as was the architecture.

 The Ford Building 

A General Motors LaSalle in the most modern of showrooms.

An enormous Studebaker.

Century of Progress
Anna Hansen
The architecture inspired several quiltmakers
to include the moderne Sears display building.

Quilting showing the first European settlement in Chicago
and the 1933 skyline
in a silk quilt in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Unfortunately, all that Art Deco creativity in the quilts was misdirected.
Sears issued the call for modern quilts
but did not choose judges who appreciated modernity.

Judges at the National Contest

They chose as prize-winner a reproduction of a mid-19th-century quilt
in up-to-date colors of Nile green.

Merikay and I wondered what might have
happened if an Art Deco quilt had
won that influential contest.

Would quilt design have taken a different direction
in the 1930s?

See my post on the contest winner:

Garden Kaleidoscope
Mayme Helman Barnfield

Merikay has written about the contest extensively for the Quilt Index Gallery pages.
Click on the links for lots more:

Here are the prizewinners:

On the gallery page scroll down to Sears contest to see various gallery photos with comments by Merikay.


  1. And here we are in 2013 and the "modern" quilt movement is taking off and gathering steam. These quilts, the art deco quilts, seem to have much the same feeling as the ones being made now. I wonder what label will be attached to *this* movement of modern quilting. =)

  2. Quilts modernos desde 1930? Que gran sorpresa .Me encantas el Ășltimo quilt. Buen fin de semana