Saturday, June 13, 2009

Have you seen this quilt?

Recently I was doing some reading on Ruby Short McKim, the famous quilt designer and entrepreneur from the 1930s. Ms. McKim is most famous for her book, which most of us met later as a Dover reprint, called One Hundred and One Patchwork Patterns. The original, published in 1931, had a lavender hard cover.

The Dover version, c.1962, echoes the earlier lavender but then adds garish quilt blocks. Dover is a reprint house and gladly snatched up this title when its copyright was not renewed. Word to the wise... Ironic that the 1931 book sold new for $1.50 postpaid and the 1962 paperback version was only .50 more at $2.00! The Dover 101 was my first quilt book and its cover shows lots of wear since it was my bible until other quilt books started to be written in the 1970's.

A frustrating thing about the Dover version was that it reprinted some pages of embroidered quilts but didn't give designs. Turns out these pages were actually from the McKim Studio mail order catalog and in the 30s were available as kits. But by 1962, the McKims had long gone on to other business ventures ( Kimport Doll Company) and the tantalizing diagrams of the long-ago designs were out of reach for us latter-day readers.

One quilt in particular still stirs readers' imaginations. Ruby McKim was a proficient artist and had brought the Victorian redwork tradition forward with her diverse designs for embroidered quilts. Readers were urged to try the flower designs in multi-color floss, to add applique touches, or even to color the diagram with crayons and then heat the squares to give a watercolor effect. Happily for us today, Ms. McKim's granddaughter Merrily has reprinted this classic pattern and you can find it at her website under the title Flower Garden Quilt #401.

A contemporary version of the Flower Garden quilt is the quilt I'm asking you to be on the lookout for. Here's the scoop: in 1977 quilt artist Martha Opdahl made a beauty-a tribute to the older McKim pattern but with a bohemian color scheme that makes any Flower Child sigh with delight. Here's the description in her own words. Martha Opdahl writes on her website :

In 1977, I participated in a national quilt contest–the “Flower Garden Quilt Contest”–sponsored by the Indianapolis Star newspaper. It was my first entry into a juried show. The contestants were each to produce a quilt based on a set of 24 flower designs by Ruby McKim. You could stitch them any way you liked, but the sponsors wanted contemporary interpretations–not what your grandmother would have made. I decided on bold, solid colors using a reverse applique technique to render stylized versions of the traditional McKim designs. I was influenced by “The Rockefeller Quilt” designed by Dorothy Weatherford, designer for the Mountain Artisans Cooperative of West Virginia. (That quilt was a gift from the quilters to Sharon Percy Rockefeller for her support in their efforts to establish and maintain their cooperative.) The Flower Garden contest drew many beautiful and inventive entries. In the end, I won first place with mine, which disgruntled many. Yet one viewer at the show declared it was “the only contemporary quilt” there. It was a welcome compliment amidst the dissenting noise. Coda: The quilt was purchased by Sharon Rockefeller.

Flower Garden ©1977 cotton/poly 118"x104"

Flower Garden ©1977 cotton/poly 118"x104"

Here's the mystery: Ms. Rockefeller can't find the quilt! Now a museum wants to exhibit this quilt and it's missing. Can anyone who reads this blog shed some light on where Martha might find her lost masterpiece?

Here's the picture sent to me by the Rockefeller's house keeper but it's the famous Mountain Artisans quilt, not Martha's quilt. You sure can see the resemblance, can't you? If you know of the whereabouts of Martha Opdahl's Flower Garden quilt, please contact her at her website as soon as possible.


Vicki Lane said...

What a beauty! I hope it turns up!

christine said...

Thanks for the info on the purple book. A few years ago a non quilting friend found one at a sale and bought it thinking it might interest me. I've always wanted to make the roly poly circus quilt and am thankful that you have now provided the link.

Have not seen the quilt...have you posted it to the lost quilt web site?

Pepper Cory said...

Good idea Christine! I'd have to ask Martha's permission since it's her quilt. Plus I'm still waiting for perhaps another try from the Rockefeller side.

KarenQuilt said...

Hi Pepper,

Did you ever find out anything more about this lost quilt? Just curious because the 100 anniversary of McKim's first quilt series will take place in 2016 and lots of planning is going on behind the scenes. Thanks, Karen Alexander