Quilts: The Fabric of War 1760-1900



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What extraordinary history these quilts tell us: from Mozart, at the age of eight playing the piano for George III, to a quilt copied from the altarpiece of Luther’s church in Wittenberg, to the history of the release of Venice from Austria to become part of Italy. What binds all these patchworks together is they were made by a technique called intarsia (which is like marquetry in wood). They are made out of a broadcloth, a heavy woollen cloth always used for military uniforms in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The fabric does not exist today.

Each story quilt, some showing scenes quite often of everyday life, involves some piece of military history. The stunning arrival of giraffes in Europe in the 1820s is illustrated in two of the quilts. Not only was the arrival of the giraffe documented in textiles, but it altered the whole cultural scene of Paris, London and Vienna at the time with printed fabrics with giraffes and hairstyles piled high up like the neck of the giraffe. There were Giraffe chairs and even Giraffe pianos … not to mention its influence on food: Giraffelnpastries and Giraffentorten.

Then there are the more serious, important and emotional quilts made by the men at war from their military uniforms.
Thus, the quilts fall into two groups: those that have been consigned and made for important people, and those made by soldiers. The thing that holds them all together is the material, as these quilts are all made out of military fabrics.
My military collection started accidentally with someone from Gympie who rang me and said ‘I’m peeling my beans over the Gympie Times and there’s a quilt here with a double headed eagle’. This made me aware that immigrants had brought extraordinary old quilts from their homeland when they came to Australia, the double headed eagle representing so much of Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. And of course, other quilts reside here from British wars as well.

So I started to look for them. The second one turned up at Christie’s in London at auction. I expected to bid against every museum in the world. However, I was the only bidder. At that time no one really understood what these intarsias were.

Over the last fifteen years I have collected them and I have been privileged that my collection of quilts has taken me all over the world. First to an exhibition in Berlin ‘Tuchintarsien in Europa von 1500 bis heute’ held at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen. Then the quilts were shown in an exhibition in the famous textile museum Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes in Mulhouse, France. And three years ago at an exhibition ‘War and Pieced’ at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. The New York Times reported it as the second best exhibition in that year, only second to MoMA. And my first Wartime Quilts book totally sold out.

Every piece of the jigsaw involved so much research and I think it’s the excitement of the chase and the extraordinary history that has fallen out from all of these quilts which has kept me fascinated and excited.

In this second book what has now become more fascinating is the involvement of paintings. So many of the quilts have been made as copies of famous works of art. This has sent me on an exploration of art collections in museums around the world, trying to identify the images on the quilts and relate them to famous paintings. It opened up a whole new world for me! Every piece of the jigsaw has involved so much excitement. I have also expanded the documentation of some quilts that I have shown before.

Professor Annette Gero is a quilt historian, collector and author. She is highly recognised worldwide for her outstanding collection and her research on intarsia military quilts. She has written four books and hundreds of articles about historic quilts. In 1986 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts (FRSA, London) in recognition of her work on Australian quilt history; and her contribution to the history of Australian quilting has been documented in the Archives of the National Library of Australia, Canberra. She is a lecturer, for the Australian Academy of Decorative Arts and The Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS). Annette is a member of the Advisory Board of the International Quilt Museum, USA and has been President and Patron of the Quilt Study Group of Australia, and is a member of the American Quilt Study Group. She has lectured on quilt history in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, France and England, and has exhibited quilts at the Musée de l’impression sur étoffes de Mulhouse, France; the Musée des Traditions et Arts, Normandy, France; the International Quilt Show in Houston, USA; ‘Tuchintarsien in Europa von 1500 bis heute’ held at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin; the European Quilt Symposium, Alsace, France and the American Folk Art Museum, New York. As well she has had over thirty exhibitions in National Galleries around Australia. Her collection of military intarsia quilts which are shown in this book, is recognised as one of the top collections in the world.

ISBN: 9780947349721
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 01/05/2024
RRP: $90.00
Pages: 192
Dimension: 280mm X 250mm
Imprint: The Beagle Press