Quilts & Coverlets
BIRD OF PARADISE QUILT TOP
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  • Artist unidentified
  • Vicinity of Albany, New York
  • 1858–1863
  • Cotton, wool, silk, and ink with silk embroidery
  • 84 1/2 x 69 5/8 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of the trustees, 1979.7.1
  • The Bird of Paradise Quilt Top, made during the Civil War period, is thought to be an unfinished marriage or wedding quilt. This idea is supported by the vertical rows of appliqued blocks that feature pairs of birds and other animals. In addition to these animal pairs, other symbols of union and fertility can be found on the bedcover; they include birds tending nests of eggs, flowers, and fruits. The only aberration appears in the two top blocks of the quilt top. A single female figure is appliqued onto one block, but the square next to her is nearly empty, save for the decorative leaves and flowers. Newspaper templates, including a template of a male figure, were found with this quilt top, suggesting that perhaps the quilt was never finished, and the marriage it was intended to celebrate never took place.

    The quilt top also features depictions of famous nineteenth-century racehorses and of an elephant named Hanible, who had traveled throughout New York State during this period with his trainer.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth