To commemorate the Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who was instrumental in supporting the American Revolution, the DAR Museum presents the exhibition, “Honoring Lafayette: Contemporary Quilts from France and America,” on display April 16 - September 4, 2010. To complement the quilts is a display of items from the DAR Museum collection that were made or saved to remember Lafayette’s triumphal visit to the United States in the 1820s in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Revolution.
In 2007, on the occasion of the 250th birthday of the Marquis de Lafayette, the city of Lafayette, Louisiana spearheaded activities to celebrate and inform the public about his contribution to American independence. As part of the initiative, quilters chosen from the United States, Canada, Belgium and France made pieces that honored Lafayette which were then featured in an exhibition in that city. When these Lafayette quilts later traveled to France, the French hosts were interested in adding another element to the exhibition. Additional quilts by two noted African American quilters from Louisiana were included to examine the intersection of French and African cultures and the quilting inspirations that come from the formerly-French Louisiana region.
“Warrior Shield” is made by New Orleans quilter Cecelia Tapplette-Pedescleaux whose design is inspired by an African American Mardi Gras social club and African symbolism. On a more somber note, when Beatriz “Soco” Ocampo and members of her quilt group were able to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina they found their homes destroyed from the flooding. When cleaning out a friend’s home, Beatriz noticed that the sun-baked mold on some of the bed sheets and blankets had formed interesting abstract designs. After thoroughly cleaning the sheets, she assembled parts of these fabrics with newspaper photographs of the storm’s devastation to create “Bad News Quilt.”
While these and the other quilts on display by Cecelia and Beatriz are not directly related to Lafayette, they, and the interest they generated at the exhibition in France, represent the ongoing dialog between America and France and their longstanding cultural bonds.
Many of the quilts made to honor Lafayette incorporate traditional elements with contemporary, original designs. “Friendship of Washington and La Fayette” uses the French fleur de lys motif, originally a symbol of the French monarchy, and alternates it with the American eagle to suggest the friendship of the two men from their respective countries. “When Compasses Collide” uses beautiful sea-blues and greens and a quilt pattern called the mariner’s compass that goes back to at least the early 19th century. Symbolically, the quilt suggests Lafayette’s voyages between France and America.
Introducing a third element to this traveling exhibition, objects featured from the DAR Museum collection show how Lafayette’s celebrity was such that many who came in contact with him preserved tangible reminders of their encounter and commercial memorabilia of his visit to America was on sale everywhere. On display are shoes that were saved just because someone danced at a ball in his honor wearing them; towels and glasses turned into relics because he supposedly used them; and china, broadsides and buttons created with his portrait which Americans cherished as souvenirs.
The DAR Museum’s “Honoring Lafayette” exhibition helps to give a glimpse into the popularity of the Frenchman who inspired the names (i.e. Lafayette, Fayette, Fayetteville) of hundreds of counties, towns, schools, parks, and streets across America. Beyond exploring the Marquis de Lafayette’s celebrity status, the exhibition offers guests a greater understanding of the lasting legacy between France and America that he helped to launch into motion at the founding of our Nation.