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Quilts of the Cane River Plantation

Exhibit Dates:
March 1 – May 29, 1998

Plantation Quilts

Just as the plantations and their families have adapted to changing conditions that have occurred since the first French land grants were obtained, so have the styles of quilts that were produced. No quilts made along the Cane River during the 18th and early 19th centuries are known to have survived. The difficult years during and shortly after the Civil War also took their toll on quilts of the mid-19th century.

Quilts from Melrose and Magnolia Plantations provide contrasts from a number of different aspects. Many of the quilts from Melrose were made on the plantation itself by members of the Henry and Garrett families while in residence there. However, all of the quilts from Magnolia Plantation were made elsewhere and brought to the plantation by family members. This difference seems to be a reverse of what would be expected, because Magnolia has remained in the same family while Melrose has changed family ownership four times. However, many personal items from Magnolia were lost during the Civil War. Quilts are transferable items of domestic inheritance and both the quilts and the women who valued them were mobile. As women married and moved from plantation to plantation, cherished quilts often were taken with them.

A white, whole-cloth quilt with the inscription; Elizabeth Compton 1853; as its central motif is reminiscent of 18th century French needlework from Marseille! even though it lacks cording. Although Compton is an English name, Elizabeth's mother was of French descent and a granddaughter of one of the early residents of Natchitoches. Atraditional red and green quilt was also brought to Magnolia Plantation following the war. Family history indicates that this quilt was from Homeplace, a sugar plantation near Meeker, Louisiana, and used on the infant bed of John Compton (born 1857). John's mother was Ann Amelia Vaughan from Natchitoches.

This classical floral quilt is similar to others that were made at this time in well established rural communities. Quilts of this style are not known' to have existed much earlier than 1820(2)

Quilts from Melrose Plantation also offer some interesting information about quilting in the region. The batting is thick, lofty, and plump in several utilitarian quilts and nonexistent in an applique quilt from the antebellum period. The antebellum quilt was made for display, and the utilitarian quilts were made for warmth. Thick batting has been noted as a regional characteristic of quilts from the southern cotton states. Cammie Henry was plantation mistress of Melrose from 1898 to 1948. She is known forher interest in Louisiana history and as a patron of both the visual and literary arts. Like other plantation quilters, her quilts range from plain to fancy.

The noted black female folk artist, Clementine Hunter came to Melrose Plantation to work in the fields and later became a domestic worker for "Miss Cammie" in the 1920s. While living there, she made numerous quilts along with other artistic works. Quiltmaking was important enough to her that a self portrait depicts her making a quilt. As late as the 1970s she was still making quilts, some of polyester fabrics. The impact of color in her simple country quilts reflects her skill as an artist in the medium of cloth as well as the medium of paint.

Thus, quilts from Cane River plantations illustrate regional and national quilting trends of the times they were produced, as well as the personal tastes and skills of the makers. Quilts and quiltmaking play an important role in women's history within Louisiana. They are a testimony to the practicality of quilts as well as to the enjoyment and beauty of the needlework that encompassed residential plantation life.

Plantation Culture | Plantation Quilts | On Quilting | Photos | Credits | Past Exhibitions

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LSU Textile & Costume Museum
140 Human Ecology Building
Department of Textiles, Apparel Design, and Merchandising
College of Agriculture
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Telephone: (225) 578-5992 and 578-2281
Fax (225) 578-2697
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