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Quilt

Quilt

Russia and United States, c. 1899
  • Velvet: embroidered with wool, silk, and metallic thread; glass beads
  • 81 1/2 x 65 in. (207 x 165.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Judaica Acquisitions Fund, 1986-119
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This colorful patchwork quilt bearing Eastern European and American imagery is a visual testimony to the acculturation process undergone by Jewish immigrants as they arrived in the United States. Originally owned by a Russian Jewish family believed to have immigrated to the United States, the quilt, which incorporates Russian textiles and motifs, was begun in Russia and probably completed in America.

Although the maker of the quilt seems to have organized the individual panels in rows, the overall arrangement of the multicolor triangular panels creates a visual effect reminiscent of crazy quilts. This form of quilting, which involves assembling pieces of fabric of various shapes and sizes, became highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of particular interest in this quilt are four panels featuring figures dressed in Russian costumes: two women raising the side of their skirts, a common gesture in folk dancing; a dancing man; and a seated musician playing the balalaika. The source for these four figures can be traced to Russian folk art.

Four panels feature roosters, a motif also found in late 19th-century Jewish textiles from Eastern Europe. In the 1880s and ’90s, the rooster was also used in America as a symbol for the Democratic Party; however, it is difficult to ascertain whether the rooster in this quilt has political significance.

The decoration in the border relates mainly to life in America. Symbols of patriotism such as the American flag are combined with the Star of David, a symbol of Jewish heritage. Two crossed American flags are flanked by depictions of Admiral George Dewey (1837–1917) and of a typical Russian woman dancing, representing the old and new worlds. The popularity of Admiral Dewey was at its peak in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Since Dewey was not promoted to the rank of admiral until March 1899, the quilt could only have been completed after this date, although the central panel bears an 1898 date.)

Several motifs in the border are related to sports that became popular in America beginning in the late 19th or early 20th century, including tennis and hot-air ballooning. The Davis Cup tennis tournament was inaugurated in 1900, and the first international hot-air balloon competition was launched in Paris in 1906 and won by an American, who popularized the sport in the United States. The inclusion of these motifs reflects a vivid interest in pastimes that were a novelty to Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, where life, especially for Jews, was harsh.