Charleston Appliquéd Panel


For me, one of the stunning objects in the Historic Textile Gallery, and actually in the whole textile collection, is a long appliquéd panel depicting the city of Charleston. Extending approximately 17 feet in length and 17 inches high, it has long been a challenge to exhibit. Finally, with our new textile gallery, we have a space pretty close to perfect for it.

We feel certain that this long form was not the maker’s original intent. When it was given to the Museum in 1977, the donor, Alice Logan Wright, told us it had been made as a quilt by an “elderly lady of the Logan family in Charleston around 1800.” Subsequently, a “Cousin Pattie” snipped out bits for her friends. Then, another cousin rescued many remnants and sewed them together into this panel.

Since many of the appliqués are merely basted and not “appliquéd,” it seems likely that perhaps this was never a finished quilt, but more likely a work in progress. And, the use of certain fabrics suggests a date later than 1800, perhaps as late as 1840. Regardless of its original format, it is now a spectacular example of folk art.

Sandi Fox of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art studied this piece years ago while it was on loan for an exhibition there. She speculated that it was originally stitched by Martha Cannon Webb (c. 1783-1843) who married William Logan (1776-1854) in 1819. This work eventually went to her granddaughter, Martha Webb “Patty” Logan and finally to Patty’s niece, Alice Logan Wright.

It certainly seems likely to me that Martha (or whoever the original maker was) could have worked on this masterpiece for many years, spanning decades perhaps. The piece begins on the left with a group of sailing ships, fully rigged with a dazzling array of fabrics – gathered and ruched to form the ships’ rigging and sails. In the colonial and antebellum years, Charleston harbor was full of these types of schooners and ships, delivering goods and people to this bustling port.

Next on the panel is a group of carriages and carts, loaded with turbaned lady passengers and all manner of goods. Sprinkled around these delightful vehicles are additional goods – what appear to be silver and ceramic urns and teapots, musical instruments, and barrels. John Siegling (musical instrument dealer in Charleston) immigrated here in 1819 and imported pianofortes from London as early as 1820. He also brought over the first harp imported to America. Both of these items can be seen on this panel.

Finally, the panel boasts over a dozen Charleston houses and outbuildings. Her choices of fabrics are astonishing – prints that signify window screening, some implying curtains, vines climbing up the walls, porticoes, steps and gardens. Sandi Fox felt certain the last house on the panel depicts the Pinckney Mansion on East Bay Street – and indeed the pillars and sweeping front steps and other architectural details appear correct.

I think what makes this panel such a delight are the many ways in which it can be enjoyed. From a quilter’s viewpoint, the amazing fabrics and techniques are outstanding; from a historian’s perspective, the abundance of detail and information in these various motifs is educational; from an artist’s approach, the use of color and texture is bold and innovative; from the casual viewer’s eye, the whimsy and playfulness of the motifs, from the goat and horses to the colorful sail, are exciting. There truly is something for everyone. Even a young child could have a grand time playing I Spy!

Unfortunately, as with all textiles, it cannot remain on exhibit forever. Damaging light, even in our low-light LED environment, will speed its demise. So come January, this wonderful piece will be rolled back up and placed safely in collections storage. But for now, it is a fascinating treasure we are happy to share in Lowcountry Embroidery.

Jan Hiester
Curator of Textiles.