Friday, October 24, 2008

Amish & Mennonite Cloth Animals (mostly)

Don't you just love this collection of quirky and whimsical early cloth animals? All but the cat on the left on the top shelf and the dog on wheels are either Amish or Mennonite made. Most of these are late 19th or early 20th century and were found in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It's become extremely difficult to find good early animals, as most that we are see are mid to late 20th century.
These gentle and beloved creatures were made by mothers for their children for special occasions. We find them as varied in construction and detail as the fabrics they are made out of. Some are rather primitive, while others reflect the skill of the seamstresses that crafted them. We find them in all sorts of condition. I tend to like things that are near pristine, but the much-loved and tired horse, as well as the dog with the blown leg sitting next to him on the top shelf could not be passed by. They are reflections of the affections of their owners, passed through time for us to see and feel. By the way, the dog's blown leg reveals its fabulous indigo calico stuffing....... Treasure spilling forth from the simple plaything of a child!
There was an excellent exhibit a few years back at the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum called Gentle Companions: A Collection of Amish & Mennonite Stuffed Animals. It was curated by Anne Lewis and Stella Rubin. I had the privilege to be a part of the research by being used as a consultant/resource. It was a fabulous exhibit which helped to further elevate them to the status of legitimate folk art by allowing people to view them in a different and more scholarly way. I wish that there would have been a catalogue published, or it would have gone on to another museum, but it did not.
Most of the animals above have been sold save one or two. I collect them, and offer some for sale. I make it a point to offer and collect only the early ones as they are the most elusive. I am forever on the hunt, and feel like a child when such a prize is found.
They are a stellar example of the work of the humble needlewoman, who found time in her busy day to sit and craft a whimsical being...a creation that was borne out of her imagination and the rag bag.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some of the things I'd like to talk about

As I mentioned previously, I'd like to be talking about the things that I both collect and sell, that tug at my heartstrings as well as my desire for knowledge of the past. Early Cloth dolls and animals are among my great loves. Cloth dolls are an adventure into the whimsical nature of their makers. Choosing them is purely a subjective matter- either they immediately win you, or they don't. I have had the privilege to own many in my lifetime, and am ever on the hunt for the next one. Criteria for choice is limitless. Facial features: inked, water-colored, hand-stitched, applied or none at all. Clothing: original or redressed. Body construction: homespun linen, cotton, striped ticking, calico...whatever mom had. They are as varied and original as snowflakes with no two ever being exactly alike. What matters most when collecting them is that you love them.

Over time I will post photos of various and sundry examples from my collection as well as those that I have sold. They are like old friends that one can never forget!

I'm trying to do several posting here tonight as a way to give you a sense of my ideas for this forum. I hope you will enjoy it.

The Thing About Early Textiles.......

The thing about early textiles is that they provide us (those of us who love them)with a visceral link to the past. Whenever I lay my hand on cloth or sampler, cloth poppet or animal I feel as if I've connected with the maker via an impulse a century or more old that has been sent by the maker straight to my head, heart and soul. It can sometimes make the hair stand up straight on the back of my neck and make my heart jump. I can sometimes sense the depth of the maker's joy or sorrow, fatigue or energy and try to imagine what life must have been like for her all those years ago when life was much harder and sometimes the only creative outlet a woman had was her needlework. By needlework I am referring to "the toil of the needle", not that done for refinement and pleasure but that borne out of necessity - like the need for a new dress for a child, or a new pin cushion, or a new doll for a present when there was little money to buy one. I am not trying to connote a negative meaning with my use of the phrase, just trying to distinguish the type of needlework I so love as opposed to the more refined needlework of women who occupied a much higher station in life than the farmer's wife, the seamstress, the less coddled woman of her day.
It is to her and her work that I would like to devote this blog. To learn more about both the maker and the object. I hope to use this forum to explore that which I do know and that which do not, but hope to learn. Knowledge is power!