National Quilt Collection
"Quilt": A cover or garment made by putting wool, cotton or other substance between two cloths and sewing them together. An American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, LL.D., New York 1828.
The National Quilt Collection incorporates quilts from various ethnic groups and social classes, for quilts are not the domain of a specific race or class, but can be a part of anyone’s heritage and treasured as such. Whether of rich or humble fabrics, large in size or small, expertly crafted or not, well-worn or pristine, quilts in the National Quilt Collection provide a textile narrative that contributes to America’s complex and diverse history. The variety and scope of the collection provides a rich resource for researchers, artists, quilt-makers and others.
Part of the Division of Home and Community Life textiles collection, the National Quilt Collection had its beginnings in the 1890s. Three quilts were included in a larger collection of 18th- and 19th-century household and costume items donated by John Brenton Copp of Stonington, Connecticut. From this early beginning, the collection has grown to more than 500 quilts and quilt-related items, mainly of American origin, with examples from many states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most of the contributions have come to the Museum as gifts, and many of those are from the quilt-makers’ families. The collection illustrates needlework techniques, materials, fabric designs and processes, styles and patterns used for quilt-making in the past 250 years. The collection also documents the work of specific quilt-makers and commemorates events in American history.
Learn more about the quilt collection and step behind the scenes with a video tour.
"National Quilt Collection - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- “I have in my possession a quilt that was presented to my great-grandfather, Bernard Nadal, by the female members of his congregation when he was a minister . . . . It seems to me that it should be in a museum as the workmanship is exquisite . . . .” wrote Miss Constance Dawson in 1983 when the quilt top was donated to the Smithsonian.
- The Ladies of the Columbia Street Methodist Church congregation presented this “Baltimore Album” quilt top to Rev. Bernard H. Nadal in 1847. He had been a pastor at the church in Baltimore between 1845 and 1846 and left to attend Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1848.
- “Album” or “friendship” quilts were popular in the mid-nineteenth century. The complex appliquéd blocks, typical of the Baltimore style, as well as signatures, poems, and drawings that grace this quilt top express the high regard the women must have had for Reverend Nadal.
- Variations of baskets, wreaths, vases, and floral designs are appliquéd on 17-inch blocks. An appliquéd flowering vine on the 9-inch border frames the twenty-five blocks on this quilt top which has neither filling nor lining. All of the blocks have embroidered or inked details and a name with often an additional poem and drawing. Almost all of the drawings, seemingly done by the same hand, are of a bird, generally a dove, with a ribbon or book sometimes on a monument or urn. These are motifs frequently found on “album” or “friendship” quilts in the mid-nineteenth century. A red Bible dated “1847” in the quilt’s center is inscribed: “To Rev. Bernard H. Nadal. Baltimore.” An inked drawing of a dove with a ribbon containing the name “Susan M. Shillingburg” is above the Bible and the inscription:
- “Accept my gift affection brings
- Though poor the offering be
- It flows from Friendship purest spring
- A tribute let it be.”
- Probably presented as a farewell gift, the inscriptions on this quilt top express friendship, good fortune in the future, and the wish to “forget me not.”
- Bernard H. Nadal was born in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1812. His father, from Bayonne, France, was said to have freed all his slaves and possibly influenced Bernard, who later had a reputation as a strong antislavery advocate and was an admirer of Lincoln.
- Bernard Nadal apprenticed as a saddler for four years but joined the ministry in 1835 at age 23. It was noted that he rode his circuit using a saddle he had made. He served churches in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1848. In 1855 he became a professor of ethics and English literature at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University) and remained there for three years before returning to pastorates in Washington, New Haven and Brooklyn.
- In 1867 Nadal became Professor of Historical Theology at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey. He married Sarah Jane Mays and they had one daughter and three sons. His career was cut short in 1870, when he died after a short illness at his home in Madison, New Jersey. In addition to many lectures, addresses, sermons, and newspaper editorials that were “continually pouring from his tireless pen,” he wrote The New Life Dawning, and other Discourses of Bernard H. Nadal published in 1873. He was described by colleagues as a person who “enjoyed that peculiar popularity among his students which belongs only to the teacher who possesses the heart to enter deeply into sympathy with young men, and also the power to inspire them with his own devotion to earnest work.” He must have made a similar impression on the women whose album quilt top indicates their high esteem for his work.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Nadal, Bernard H.
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center