Quilts were originally scaled to accommodate being placed on beds as sources of warmth during cold nights. The rectangular nature of most traditional beds impacted the design of quilts, and these two examples reflect that relationship, which is grounded in a rectangular division of space. Each quilt is composed of a series of squares and rectangles, arranged in rows. In the case of the older quilt, the nine squares are identical in size and produce a final product that is essentially a square itself. In Mary Maxtion’s Hotel Window, ca. 1996, the twenty squares are variously scaled and multicolored, producing a vibrant rectangle.
The nineteenth-century quilt, a pattern known as The Whig’s Defeat, is dated by the maker in 1858. The red and green are complementary colors, and resonate within the organic leaf patterns and the geometric diamonds. The central diamonds reflect the popularity of plaid cloth in the mid-nineteenth century, and this cloth could have been salvaged from a lady’s fashionable dress. It is apparent that this particular quilt was used—it shows staining and wear that have as much to do with use as with age. Despite this wear, the color remains bright and fresh, suggesting that the quilt was protected from the damaging effects of light, and was gently laundered. The quilt is embroidered in the center square with the following: Montevallo Shelby County ALA/Aug 1858. Above the date, hidden in the quilting, is the name Walter Reece Pitts. According to census records, Pitts was born in Alabama in 1855. His mother was born in Montevallo in 1838.
Hotel Window has a physical inspiration: the horizontal line of windows on a building façade. While a quilt like this one might have been used as bed cover, it is more likely that the maker, Mary Maxtion, knew that it was to be used primarily for decorative purposes. She composed the squares to been seen vertically, without breaking up the surface by folding it over the sides of a bed. By the mid-1990s when this quilt was made, the composition itself is a reference to a traditional form, however it was equally recognized that these quilts are to be appreciated as independent works of art.
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