By: Anita Loscalzo
Baskets of flowers, bowknots, garlands, and swags appear frequently as appliqué, pieced, and whitework motifs in American quilts made in the first half of the nineteenth century. The historical use of these motifs as architectural elements and in porcelain, textiles, wallpaper, and furnishings will be explored, as well as possible routes of their assimilation into the general design vocabulary of American quilt makers. Garlands derived from ancient times, first as funerary items in Egypt, and later as decorative elements in Greece and Rome with the addition of bowknots or substitution with drapery swags. Sixteenth-century architects revived these classical motifs, but the greatest revival occurred during the neoclassical period of the mid- to late eighteenth century. Baskets of fruits or flowers became popular motifs in the decorative arts of Europe in the seventeenth century and gained further prominence in the eighteenth century. European ideas of architecture and decorative arts spread to colonial America, and then to the early federal republic, beginning in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. As a result, examples of the motifs abounded in the everyday surroundings of the populace of the young United States, giving ready examples to needleworkers to copy and adapt for their works.