Peale Museum Donor Quilt Project
The Peale Museum, located in downtown Baltimore, was the first museum that was purposefully built in the United States. It was commissioned in 1813 by Rembrandt Peale, a member of the first family of American artists and museum pioneers.
Learn more about the museum.
After more than 20 years, renovation of the Peale Museum building was almost done. A special way to thank was needed for the generosity of more than 500 individuals and organizations. A project was conceived as a commission to honor those donors and supporters for making the Peale’s renovation and rebirth possible. The idea was that two quilts would name Peale supporters along with text thanking them – like a traditional donor recognition board in a museum, but in a quilt form.
The big question was what should they look like? The Peale team hired three members of the African American Quilters of Baltimore: Glenda Richardson and Rosalind Robinson and I to figure it out.
We recognized that the Peale is a place that conveys Baltimore stories and does this in numerous ways. These quilts needed to do the same. We decided that one would exhibit images related to the history of the Peale and Baltimore. The other one would focus on the museum’s Story Telling Projects.
Each quilt measures 82 ¼” x 53 ¾”. They hang in the lobby area that leads out to the museum’s garden. The History Quilt on the left of the doorway showcases original cloth renderings of Moses Williams, an African American silhouette artist as well photo transfer depictions of Rembrandt Peale, pictures from the Baltimore City Colored High School, the famous garden pediment and gas lights. The Story Quilt, highlights some of the story telling initiatives at the Peale like: Stoop Shoots, Out of the Blocks, Town Creek: Maryland Environmentalists, The Guardians, Lexington Market, and Mamma Linda’s Chap Book.
Story Quilt Highlights
I constructed images on the quilt using a variety of quilting techniques like photo transfer, applique’, traditional piecing, and free-motion quilting. I used commercially made and hand dyed cotton, Marimekko, batik, Yukata, African, and other fabrics to make many of the objects and background areas on the quilt. I embellished the playing cards and the stoop with Ric Rac ribbon from Germany. Other construction materials included: fusible web, photo transfer cloth, and polyester and cotton threads.
I divided the quilt into rows. Each represents Peale story initiatives. The top row highlights "The Guardians: Reshaping History" — a photo, documentary, and storytelling project that celebrates Black female leaders across Baltimore City neighborhoods. This row also features images of the "Proximity Project, and Promenade Baltimore" — interactive story telling programs.
The second row introduces “Stoop Shoots by Daisy Brown” and stories about working in Baltimore. I made the houses out of layers of appliquéd fabric with accents of rayon thread trim to make them resemble row houses in the city - i.e. stoops where people shoot-the-breeze. I printed quotes from some of the people Daisy interviewed in her travels around the city on the houses. A Peale-Style gas light is at the end of the row to light the way.
“Out of the Blocks" is an initiative that has people pull questions from a deck of playing cards to spark conversation. Here’s some of them: What would constitute a perfect day for you? What is a chance you passed up on that you regret? If you could start all over what would you do differently?
For this, I made playing cards of fabric that pose some of the questions. I appliquéd the cards to a batik cloth background.
The next row is "Town Creek: Maryland Environmentalists" — Stories documenting 40 years of environmental expertise to inspire a sustainable future in Maryland. I had fun with this one by making an Oriole from fabric and thread. His eyes and the crab’s eyes are made of glass beads. The fishing line that caught the fish is made of German Ric Rac ribbon. I found a piece of Yukata fabric in my stash that had a butterfly on it and added that to the row.
The last area highlights "Lexington Market Stories" – with images of peanuts and oysters – a couple of items that visitors to the market often ate and talked about. There’s lots more stories where these came from.
For "SayIt LikeItIs" I printed comments from local high school kids noting their positive feelings about school on fabric that looks like Post-It notes. The Peale’s Storyteller-in-Residence Mama Linda Goss is also shown.
Companion Exhibit - "Quilted Connections: Sisterhood in Cloth"
In addition to the donor quilts, Rosalind, Glenda and I created a stand-alone exhibition of our work over the years, reflecting the magic and virtuosity of our craft.
"Quilted Connections" was an exhibition of 17 large-scale quilts that feature everything from exquisite portraits of historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Mahalia Jackson to African-inspired designs and memories of family.
The exhibition included an Audio Tour, narrated by us. Click the link to hear us talk about our quilts and the exhibit. Learn about our process, inspirations, and techniques.
Sheilah Kast, host of On the Record on WYPR, Baltimore, spoke with me in an interview that goes with us behind the scenes of the exhibit. Enjoy the show.