What: Review of Uncoverings 1991, Volume 12 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group
Topic: “The Machado Quilt: A Study in Multi-Cultural Folk Art”
Author: Kyle Emily Ciani. At the time this paper was published Ciani was a doctoral student in American History at Michigan State University where she focused her research on colonial and nineteenth-century women workers in the Southwest and Latin America.
The author of this research paper provides historical background on mid-nineteenth century quilting practices in California. Additionally, she has collected details on one specific quilt and its maker, a Spanish woman, Donã Juana de Dios Machado Alipas Wrightington, of San Diego. Donã Juana is said to have “created an applique quilt of an original design in the mid-nineteenth century.” Ciani briefly points to the controversial nature of the designation “original design” for this quilt’s unique pattern and leans toward “environmental influence” such as what we see in original folk art. [p. 190]
The quilt is estimated to have been made in the 1850s and was “found” in 1953. It is believed to be the oldest quilt made in California. Statehood was achieved in 1850. Family beliefs attribute the quilt to Donã Juana.
Ciani explains the history of California’s development from home to indigenous tribes to its Spanish experiences to the influences of maritime shipping and trade. Ciani makes the important point that the first American ship entered the San Diego port of entry in 1800. It is entirely possible that Americans had arrived there before that on ships sailing under other nationalities but “by 1822, whalers from Boston regularly stopped in California harbors, and San Diego Bay became one of their favorite spots.” [p. 193] More importantly, “soon they began to leave their ships to settle in the area.” [p. 193]
Furthermore, Donã Juana is quoted as having said that “before Mexican rule her community had suffered from a general lack of provisions, but independence and increased ship travel made certain items, such as chocolate and clothing, available.” [p. 194] Ciani believes that this suggests quilts would have also been among these items.
Ciani, in her discussion of her research, found similarities between Hawaiian quilt practices and what is visible in Donã Juana’s quilt. The connection between Massachusetts missionary practices in Hawaii has been well documented, especially as it relates to the teaching of quilting and the adoption of paper-cut patterns. Ciani sees a connection. Ciani also points to the fact that after Donã Juana’s first husband died, she married a merchant who had come from Massachusetts. Increased availability of dry goods/West Indian cloth would have been a reasonable possibility. There is much more in this paper about Donã Juana, her experiences, and the possible genesis of her unique quilt.
Ultimately, there is a good deal of speculation in this paper, but Ciani’s documentation and analysis seems thorough and credible. I recommend this article and would welcome updated information from readers.
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