By: Eleanor Hamilton Sienkiewicz
Dr. William Rush Dunton, Jr. (1868-1966) was a psychiatrist who spent some half a century documenting the quilts of Maryland and nearby states. He self-published Old Quilts in 1946. In that book he repeatedly expressed the hypothesis that there may have been an artist behind the best examples of these quilts, the genre we now call Baltimore Album Quilts.
In addition to Old Quilts Dr. Dunton left the research record of some two feet of files and multiple scrapbooks to the Baltimore Museum of Art. There they remain unpublished, uncatalogued, and difficult to gain access to. Two books published in 1974 first tentatively connected the authorship of Mary Evans to whole Baltimore Album Quilts. The authors of both books either in person or in print cite the Dunton notebooks as their source for the name Mary Evans. In 1982 Dena Katzenberg, in Baltimore Album Quilts, expressed her conviction that Mary Evans was the sole maker of more than twelve of these quilts. Several years later, at a symposium at Goucher College on these quilts, she put the number of quilts and blocks which she attributed to Mary Evans well over one hundred. In January of 1989, in New York alone, four “Mary Evans quilts” were advertised for sale. Such public forums as the N.Y. Times Art and Antiques, and ads in The Magazine Antiques, The Clarion and The Catalogue for the N.Y. Winter Antique Show, stated unequivocally “made by the master quiltmaker Mary Evans” or called a given quilt’s maker Mary Evans, “the first professional quiltmaker.”
Attributions to Mary Evans as the artist/quiltmaker of superb 1846-1852 Baltimore Album Quilts have become increasingly categorical where originally they were appropriately tentative. Tracing the source of the Mary Evans authorship attribution, this paper focuses on the apparent connection between published scholarly expertise and the commercial presentation of Mary Evans as the maker of quilts whose prices at auction in recent years have ranged into the six-figure bracket. Significant new evidence is presented for the first time and the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.