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Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War

April 04, 2014
August 24, 2014

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (1861-1865), the New-York Historical Society presents a groundbreaking traveling exhibition, Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War, organized by the American Textile History Museum. The exhibition uses quilts, textiles, clothing, and other artifacts to connect deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war, its causes, and its aftermath with the broader national context and public history.

Made for “AK” in Pennsylvania by an unidentified quiltmaker, this textile illustrates the life of a Zouave soldier. It includes fabrics used by seamstresses at the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia to make Zouave uniforms. “AK” may have been Adam Keller or Albert Keen, both of whom served with the 88th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, which boasted two companies of Zouaves. Collection of Kelly Kinzle.

Textiles were integral to the Civil War— physically, economically, ideologically, and emotionally—and linked soldiers and civilians. Among the exhibition highlights on view at New-York Historical is a large-scale silk banner for the 39th Regiment New York State Veteran Volunteers (ca. 1861), rescued by Lieutenant Kiliaen Van Rensselaer IV from a wounded flag bearer at the Battle of Sutherland’s Station during the Appomattox campaign. Also on view are simple objects with powerful symbolism, such as the hemp rope noose said to be used to hang abolitionist John Brown, who was convicted of treason, murder, and inciting a slave rebellion. Personal articles of clothing on view include a “free labor” dress (1850s)—made of a conservative brown wool/silk blend and lined with calico—was worn by Rachel Robinson of Ferrisburgh, Vermont, a devout Quaker and abolitionist. With her husband, Robinson sheltered and employed runaway slaves and refused to purchase goods made with slave labor.

The exhibition builds on recent scholarship in social and economic history to tell of the events that led to the war, the stories of men and women affected by the Civil War, and the opportunities and challenges that followed it. Through a wealth of artifacts drawn from around the nation, the exhibition will invite visitors to see and acknowledge the human experiences beneath the veneer of Blue and Gray.

Creative: Tronvig Group