The NBM Quilt Collection: Stories from the 18th Century to Contemporary New Brunswick

Quilts tell stories, especially those of their makers. The New Brunswick Museum is fortunate enough to have a collection of these stories stretching from the twenty first century all the way back to the 1700s.

The NBM acquired its first piece of bedding in 1927 and has since acquired 411 quilts among other bedding items. Back when the NBM quilt collection was in its infancy, quilts were generally seen as quaint home furnishings: records of the colonial era or pioneering spirit. A tradition in New Brunswick that a woman prepare a dozen practical quilts and a 13th elaborate quilt for her trousseau meant that quilts were common household items.

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The oldest quilt in the NBM Collection. Maker Unknown, 1770-1800    (found in Campobello, Charlotte County, New Brunswick). The John Corey Domestic Textiles Collection, 2003. Hand-sewn and hand-quilted wool whole cloth with wool batting.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that quilts were viewed with newfound importance, as a revival in quilt making corresponded with the feminist movement.

“Now we look at quilts in a far broader way […] as one of the ways that we hear women’s voices from the past,” said Peter Larocque, NBM Curator, New Brunswick Cultural History and Art.

“As quilts are examined more and more, we’re able to gain access to how women lived, how they worked, how they communicated. So those quilts have become more than just objects, they’ve become statements.”

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A crazy quilt by Violette Emily Dibblee and Carlysle Eulalie Hopkins, Saint John New Brunswick 1886-1888. Gift of V. Hazel Dibblee, 1952.
Violette Emily Casey married Beverley Newton Howard Dibblee on 29 March 1886 in Saint John, New Brunswick. This unusual quilt incorporates portraits of “Vie” and “Bev” in the form of photographic images printed on silk.

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Quilt by Celia Elizabeth Lapointe and William Edward Lapointe, St. Marys, York County, New Brunswick, 1940-1950. Gift of Susan Steen, in memory of Celia Elizabeth Whitlock Lapointe and William Edward Lapointe, 2009.
This quilt was a joint project of husband and wife. He did the drawings onto the pieces and she embroidered them and made them into a quilt. Cartoon characters featured include (left to right) Popeye and “Der Inspector” from the Katzenjammer Kids.

Many of the NBM’s quilts were donations of John J. Corey, a historical consultant from Butternut Ridge, Havelock, who developed a specialization and interest in textiles. Corey not only collected historical quilts, but also designed quilts and had them produced. For example, the below quilt on the left is a historic quilt by Tressa Annie Thorne, while the quilt on the right was designed by Corey and appliquéd by Retta Lucy Hicks based in the earlier quilt.

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Left: Tulips Quilt by Tressa Annie Thorne, 1920-1930. John Corey Domestic Textiles Collection, 2003.
Right : Tulips Quilt , appliquéd by Retta Lucy Hicks after Tressa Annie Thorne. Quilted by Middle Sackville Baptist Ladies’ Aid, 1970-1985. Gift of John J. Corey, 2013.

While the NBM has a superb collection of historical quilts, it’s also working to keep the collection up to date with contemporary New Brunswick quilting. Late member of the Marco Polo Quilters Guild Kathy Coffin approached the NBM about adding a contemporary quilt to the museum collection every two years through the guild’s biannual show. Coffin designed and sold a block based on the provincial flower and used the funds from the pattern to purchase the first piece for the biennial, juried New Brunswick Contemporary Quilt Award.

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The First three winners of the New Brunswick Contemporary Quilt Award.
 Left: Railways in a Northern Land by Donna K. Young, Fredericton, NB, 2004. Marco Polo Quilters’ Guild New Brunswick Contemporary Quilt Award, 2011.
Centre: When Compasses Collide by Juanita Allain, Riverview, NB, 2002-2006. After Sheila Wintle. New Brunswick Contemporary Quilt Award, purchased with funds provided by The Marco Polo Quilters Guild, Donna K. Young Marilyn Peabody, Maggie Coffin Prowse and the Fundy Sewing Guild, 2013.
 Right: Baltimore Bouquet by Gail Fearon, New Line, NB, 2011. After Mimi Dietrich. New Brunswick Contemporary Quilt Award, purchased with funds provided by Juanita Allain, Marilyn Peabody, the Woodstock Quilt Guild and John J. Corey, 2015.

The most recent winner of the award was Baltimore Bouquet by Gail Fearon of New Line, New Brunswick. This quilt is based on a mid-19th century style of quilt that incorporated a sampling of different blocks. Called Baltimore Album quilts, they became extremely fashionable along the eastern seaboard. This quilt is an especially valuable addition to the NBM collection since there are no historic examples of Baltimore Album quilts represented in the collection.

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Baltimore Bouquet on display at the NBM with (left to right) Gail Fearon, award recipient; Carolyn Wishart, President of the Marco Polo Quilters’ Guild; Peter J. Larocque, NBM Curator, New Brunswick Cultural History and Art.