Sunday, May 6, 2018

How the Comic Patchwork became the Gossips

How the Comic Patchwork became the Gossips
In 1938, Marguerite Wilson of Florida, known professionally as Carmel Wilson, immortalized a silk patchwork made by Eunice Waring Cook in a watercolor, now residing the National Gallery of Art.   Carmel was an artist for the WPA Federal Art Project.  She and fellow WPA artists Alfred Walbeck and Cora Parker documented several items provided by Mrs. F.N. Holley, Jr of Coral Gables, Florida.
Alfred Walbeck documented the Sampler wrought by Eunice W. Cook in the tenth year of her age in 1813.  Along with the Gossips patchwork picture, Carmel Wilson painted images of a Doll’s Straw Bonnet and a Doll that originally belonged to Eunice’s step daughter Eliza Williams.  Cora Parker ‘s watercolors depicted a Sun Bonnet and a Doll’s Bonnet.
Of all the items Hellen (Mullen) Holley offered to the WPA to document, the Gossips watercolor by Ms. Wilson has enamored many by its angular design and comical characters.  Just where did the design come from?   And how did Mrs. H.L. Holley come to own it?
Most people researching the pattern find the earliest image in Eva Nile’s 1884 book called Fancy Work Recreations.  Did Eva use the original patchwork as a design source?   Eunice Waring Cook passed away in 1881, 3 years prior to the publication.  Had Eva seen Eunice’s patchwork?  At the end of Eva’s book, she explains in a note, that whereas the greater part of the knitting and crochet was original, she used other sources to aid in making this volume.  Was the Comic Patchwork original as well?  Or did it come from another source?
These questions kept gnawing at me for many years.  First and foremost, what was the Holley-Cook family connection?  And, did the original Patchwork still exist?  In digging up the answers, I found the connection, plus a much earlier design source, and the original silk patchwork of The Comic Patchwork depicted in the WPA watercolor!

The Family Connection:
I began researching the family names Holley and Cook and came up with the name Mullen, Mrs. F.N. Holley’s sur name and traced that back to the name Wood, then Williams, and finally Cook.  Using a variety of on-line sources, I was able to sort through the genealogy and determine that Helen Holley was the great-great-granddaughter of Eunice Waring Cook.  So that is how the items the WPA documented came to be in Coral Gables, Florida. 
Further research needed to be done to find out where the patchwork was, if it still existed.  Contacts with Carlotta Owens of the National Gallery of Art indicated that they were unaware of the whereabouts of any of the items.  She did however forward to me copies of some of the actual data report sheets used by the WPA for the Index of American Design.  This confirmed the family lineage that I had researched.

The Design Source:
As my search continued, I tried to see if there was a connection between Eva Niles and the Mullen family, maybe they were in the same area?  Eva Niles also provided patterns/articles for The Modern Priscilla and Good Housekeeping – both had offices in the Massachusetts area.  Could they have met?  I could not find any evidence of any such meeting.

As I continued my pattern search, I found several books published in 1902 by Nellie Mustain that had the Comic Patchwork pattern in a section for Dainty Work for Deft Fingers. 

But what about an earlier source?  Finally, I found a reference to Comic Patchwork in the 1862 volume of Arthur’s Home Magazine, then in a newspaper ad in The London Times in late August, stating that Comic Patchwork, a new and useful ornamental work for ladies, would be in the September issue of The Family Friend magazine.  Both sources were confirmed on-line and references forwarded to Ms. Owens of the National Gallery.

In 1964, journalist Marguerite Mitchell reviewed the 1862 volume and published the Comic Patchwork pattern in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph.  She wrote that the illustrations contained in each monthly section included needlework patterns, craft ideas such as a basket made of acorns and pine cones, designs for initials in intricate scrollwork, and a comic patchwork design whose pattern resembled a latter-day Picasso.  There was no connection to The Gossips at this point.

In 1950, a large format book The Index of American Design by Erwin Christensen was published, giving the public access to the works recorded by the WPA.  A b/w image of the applique picture, made by Eunice W. Cook was chosen as the front-piece to The Linen Chest section.

In the early 1960s, Woman’s Day published watercolor their magazine and subsequent Book of American Needlework by Rose Wilder Lane.  From then on, the design became part of folk culture.  Several enterprising people created stitchery and applique kits/design based on the gossip’s motif.  There may have even been a woodcraft kit, as I have one dated 1968, signed by Diane.  I even have a watercolor painting called The Gossips someone made, honoring the design – but left the piece unsigned and undated.

Several more publications in the 1970’s published the Gossip’s image.  Clarence Hornung referred to the piece as a humorous commentary in needlecraft in his book Treasury of American Design and Antiques.  In 1974, an Italian book by Ambrose Pierce used a colorized image on the cover, with the reference, In Copertina:  Tessuto applicato di Eunice W. Cook (Vermont).    The 1979 book Artist’s in Apron – Folk Art by American Women by Dewhurst, MacDowell and MacDowell put a feminist twist in the caption, indicating that the design may depict a confidential exchange of opinion concerning the controversial struggle for women’s suffrage.

In 1986, a documented connection was made.  Joyce Gross, editor and publisher of the Quilter’s Journal, republished the Comic Patchwork pattern from Eva’s Niles’ book and referenced The Gossips watercolor.  The article also mentions the postcards issued by the National Gallery of Art, and publications known to have reproduced The Gossips image.  In books published after Ms. Wilson’s painting in 1938, the design was referred to as The Gossips.  This was the first to connect the dots between the design names I have been able to find.

The design is still inspiring artists. Mixed media artist Barbara Olsen was inspired by the image from Artist’s in Aprons to create her version of The Gossips done in acrylics and papers in the 1990s.  In the early 2000s, quilter Patricia Cummings wrote an article for The Quilter Magazine, referencing Eva Niles’s version of the design, the 1984 pattern by Janet Kornfeind of Country Appliques and the Carmel Wilson watercolor rendering.


The Original Patchwork Found:
After going backward in time, from 1938, when the patchwork was first documented.  It was time to go forward and see if any of Eunice Ware Cook’s descendants had her prized patchwork.  Again, I went back to public records:   census, births, marriages and death records for more research.  In doing so, I found that Mrs. Holley was also a bit of a murder mystery writer and that the family owned a string of 5-10 cents stores in and around Coral Gables, Florida.

The Holley’s only had one child, and he had two children – a boy and a girl.  I followed up on his daughter, thinking that the items might be passed on to the daughter of the family.  Again with more records to search, I located a name and address.  It took about a year to summon up the courage to write and send a letter asking her about some family items that she may have, why I was interested in them and not seem like a wacko stalker.  I am glad I did, after a few days of sending the letter, she called me at home to chat about the research, and yes she did have the Gossips patchwork and the Sampler, but was unaware of any of the other items the WPA documented.

After several emails, and me sending her some of my research, she sent me some photos of the framed Gossips patchwork and 1813 Sampler made by her great-great-great-grandmother Eunice Ware Cook.

It is not known exactly when Eunice made her famous Gossips patchwork, but I suspect it was made using the Comic Patchwork design published in 1862 by Arthur’s Home Magazine.

After over 150 years the Comic Patchwork design is still fascinating and inspiring artists and will probably continue to do so for many, many more years.

Appendix A:  Sources and Other Notes
Pattern Notes:  Arthur’s version – only one with an ‘x’ in the corner, other versions mention the ”x” in the text, but it is not on the image; Niles version also has a missing line on the older woman’s shawl; Family Friend and Arthur’s have a black background; Niles is a line drawing,

On-line Image Source Only:  1862 ad; Pleasant Hours; WPA renderings; Colorado Springs Newspaper; Barbara Olsen mixed media

My collection:  1862 Arthurs (reprint and original); 1862 The Family Friend; Eva Niles;  Popular Amusements; Index; Woman’s Day Magazine; Woman’s Day Book (?); Wood Plaque;  Treasury of American Design; June Craft Stitchery kit; Italian Book; Artists in Aprons; Postcards (both versions); Janet Kornfeind pattern; Quilter’s Journal; Watercolor; The Quilter Magazine; Images of the Original Sampler and Gossips Patchwork

Family Research:; Vitals Records of Wrentham, Massachusetts; National Gallery of Art archives;  US Census data from 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940; Florida, State Census, 1935, 1945; (Florida Marriage and Death Indexes);;; Public Records

WPA Artist – Carmel Wilson (Marguerite Carmel Wilson)
Carmel Marguerite Wilson was an artist for the WPA Federal Art Project, who worked professionally as Carmel Wilson and lived in Miami, Florida.  She did several pictorial maps used on postcards for Parrot Jungle and Clewiston Inn brochures in the 1930s; and in a 1954 Highlights of Greater Miami.  She prepared several other Florida maps in the 1950s.   

Scandal or Gossips a common theme featured on several trade cards and offered as an embroidery pattern in the 1880s.  The Kate Greenaway styled version was used in ads for stamping outfits and can be found on many period redwork embroidery and crazy patchwork items.

Appendix B:  Timeline - COMIC PATCHWORK BECOMES THE GOSSIPS - Over 150 years of history
[Numbers refer to the above image]

1804  Eunice Ware Cook was born, April 21, 1804 in Wrentham, Mass [1]

1813   Eunice Ware Cook made her Sampler in the 10th year of her age [2]

1836  Eunice Ware Cook married Luke Williams [1]

1862  The Times (London), Aug 30, Ad for Comic Patchwork in September issue of The Family Friend [3];
           Family Friend, Sept  1862 [4]; Arthur's Home Magazine, Vol. 20, Dec 1862, Comic Patchwork [5]
1881  Eunice Ware (Cook) Williams died, March 4, 1881 [1]

1884  Fancywork Recreations by Eva Niles; pages 322-324, Comic Patchwork [6]

1902  Popular Amusements for In-doors and Out of  doors by Nellie M. Mustain; Book VIII. Dainty work for deft fingers; Comic Patchwork, pgs 362-364 [7]
1902  Pleasant Hours of Amusement and Entertainment by Nelle  M. Mustain; Book VIII. Dainty work for deft fingers; Comic Patchwork, pgs 362-364 [7]

1938  WPA Artist Alfred Walbeck did a rendering of Eunice W. Cook's 1813 Sampler;  Id: 1943.8.15 [8]
           WPA artist Carmel Wilson did a rendering of Eunice W. Cook's Patchwork Picture "Gossips"  Id: 1943.8.528 [9]
1950  The Index of American Design by Erwin O. Christensen, page 103, Figure 211.  Applique Picture (b/w image)

1961  Woman's Day Magazine, November issue [10]
1963  Woman's Day Book of American Needlework by Rose Wilder Lane [11]

1964  Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, May 2, 1964 - A review of Arthur's Home, 1862 by Marguerite Mitchell [12]

1968  Diane Wood Plaque [13]

1968  The United Stated Encyclopedia of History by Paul Henry Oehser, Vol 13

1972  Treasury of American Design and Antiques : Two Volumes in One by Clarence P. Hornung; Vol 2, pages 564-5, figure 2074; Thee appliqued piece, called "Gossips," introduces a humorous commentary in needlecraft by Eunice W. Cook of Vermont.  [color image]  Vol 2, pages 574-5, figure 2098, sampler designs.  [Description:  3 alphabet styles, 1 numeric with trees.  Text reads:  Eunice W. Cook's Sampler Wrought in the 10th year of her age A.D. 1813.  b/w image]

1972  June Craft Stitchery, Houston, TX; Kit JC-72 “The Gossips” [14]

1974  Racconti neri by Ambrose Bierce; Italian book with image on cover - In Copertina:  Tessuto applicato di Eunice W. Cook (Vermont) [15]

1979  Artists in Aprons- Folk Art by American Women by C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell and Marsha MacDowell; Page 48, Fig. 27.  Eunice W. Cook: The Gossips (detail from patchwork quilt).  Vermont, 19th century; 10.75 x 11.875-inch; (b/w image) [16]

1980s  Postcards: No. X-18 | Applique Picture, The Gossips (larger card, full image); [X-18] Gossip (smaller card, cropped image) [17]

1982  Postcard: No. X-18 | Applique Picture, The Gossips (larger card, full image) listed in Vol 21 (1982) issue of Quilter's Journal as a postcard in the Gross Collection [17] 

1984  Janet Kornfeind, Country Appliques; February 21, 1984 pattern for applique picture, The Gossips [18]

1986  Vol 30 - Quilter's Journal; Joyce Gross , editor/publisher  - Comic Patchwork from Eva Niles book republished along with listing of where the watercolor rendering image was published; selling the post card for $1 [19]

1980s?  Folk Art – Watercolor purchased on-line; undated, unsigned [20]

1990s  Barbara Olsen - THE GOSSIPS:  The inspiration for this piece came from a book titled "ARTISTS IN APRONS".
THE GOSSIPS.  The inspiration for this piece came from a book titled "ARTISTS IN APRONS".  I have always been interested in story telling quilts and young girls' samplers. This particular piece is from a patchwork quilt titled "THE GOSSIPS" by Eunice W. Cook, Vermont, 19th century.  I liked the angular shapes in this appliqued quilt and decided to see how it would look as a mixed media piece with acrylic and papers all done on 300 pound paper. I am very pleased with it and hope you will be, too.  This is a mixed media collage 22x30. [21]

2002  The Quilter Magazine - Cummings, Patricia L. "The Gossips." The Quilter Magazine; March 2002: 76-77 [22]
2015  Direct descendant of Eunice Ware Cook, current owner of Sampler and Gossips Patchwork sent me images from the wall in her bedroom, 4/27/2015.  Sampler made in 1813 [23]; Gossips patchwork – most likely made after the pattern published in 1862 [24]

There may be more references to this pattern out there, this is just a list that I have been able to document.

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