Featuring sawtooth borders and hawk-like birds, the framed Tree of Life medallion of this 1820s New Jersey quilt reflects the ornithological passion of Edward Harris, for whom the quilt was made. The Harris family knew only that a member of his family made the quilt for Edward; the most likely candidates are his sister Sarah, known to have been a skilled needlewoman, and his cousin Mary Lang, whom he married in 1827.
Edward began capturing and studying birds as a teenager. His scientific interest prompted an 1824 introduction to John James Audubon, of whom Edward became a good friend and a financial supporter. Audubon recognized Edward’s passion for birds of prey and honored him by naming the Harris’s Hawk, and two other birds, after him. The quilt’s birds are an artist’s pastiche of hawk and eagle characteristics, but were surely included as a nod to Edward’s interests.
This quilt, donated by Dorothy L. Darrach and Edward Harris Darrach Jr. in honor of Edward Harris, is similar in style to those popular in pre-1860 Maryland and Virginia. It will be featured in the upcoming DAR Museum exhibition “Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland and Virginia.” The exhibit, opening October 3, 2014, will include more than 30 quilts from the DAR Museum collection, as well as private collections. “Eye on Elegance” focuses on quilts and their makers, who used the best imported fabrics in their creations. The exhibition also explores how popular regional quilt styles traveled with their quiltmakers throughout the country.