Posted by: marymarthatours | October 18, 2013

American Museum in Bath, England

Guest blog by Fran Kerlin, Melbourne, Australia

Amer. Mus., Don cload, CCASA2.0

On our recent quilters’ tour of southern England, our group was privileged to visit the spectacular American Museum, situated outside Bath. The vision of two very determined Americans of the early 1960’s, the Museum’s objective is ‘Educating the United Kingdom – and the world – about American cultural history’.

It’s a splendid way to see a ‘potted history’ of early America, showcasing how the people lived, what pursuits they enjoyed, their ways of decorating homes reflecting the various periods in history, their pastimes ….all giving the visitor a unique peek through the window of history.

Of particular interest to our group was the extraordinary collection of early American quilts. Over 200 quilts are held by the Museum and regularly rotated so there is a freshness to the display. Our tour guide was particularly knowledgeable about quilting techniques, early fabrics and the way in which early quilters ‘toiled by candlelight’ to produce very impressive quilts even when measured against today’s sophisticated techniques.

Quilts 227

I’ve singled out some special quilts where the theme or technique resonated. Firstly, one displaying wonderful colour selection and quilting starts with a brilliant white background, overlaid with a rambling briar rose embroidered outer border, together with six matching inner panels, all delicately framed by a cobalt blue sashing – a close examination of the actual quilting demonstrated just how exacting the work actually is.

Another of the quilting treasures is a simple appliqué basket pattern that conveys a 3D effect through the creative use of delph-blue hexagonal background shapes. Especially intriguing is the multi-directional placement of the baskets, leading the eye to wander gently around the pattern. The choice of quilting pattern lends a softness to the overall design and highlights the elegance of the overall quilt.

Quilts 218

Quilts 221   Quilts 222

One of the earliest- made quilts is a white and ‘Turkey Red’ 15-patch, featuring a collection of images that are quite eclectic in theme – an elephant, a swan, a pair of whispering kittens, toadstools and various children engaged in work and play. Whilst the stitching is rudimentary the overall design cleverly works, capturing the imagination of the viewer by giving a snapshot of what images were clearly important to the quilt maker of the time.

Quilts 213   Quilts 215

Another of the red and white quilts was a very simple 1860’s ‘chalice’ quilt, made by slaves on a plantation in Texas. The narrative behind the quilt’s construction was very moving – according to our guide. Each year the Bishop of New Orleans would visit the plantation to perform marriages and baptisms and quilts were made for his use. Upon the Bishop leaving the plantation, the quilts made were given to slaves for their use – a poignant reminder of early American history.

A sampler sewn by 10 year old Hannah Taylor in 1774 drew great appreciation, a beautifully handcrafted piece in silk, clearly showcasing the art of craft work and its place as a centrepiece in early American culture.

In all, a truly inspiring visit and a place not to be missed for quilters and non-quilters alike!

(by Fran K., Melbourne, Australia)

Mary’s note:  Thanks, Fran, for your great article on the visit of the Quilts & Textiles of England & Wales group to the American Museum in Bath.  We’ll be back in Bath next May on our Spring Gardens of Cornwall and Devon Tour, and folks will have a free afternoon there.  I’m hoping some will want to accompany me for another visit to the American Museum.

Photo credits:  American Museum, copyright Don Cload, and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license 2.0;  all other photos copyright Fran Kerlin, Sept. 2013.



  1. How humbling. America’s best is truly something wonderful to behold. Perhaps we should send members of Congress on a tour . . . (on their own nickel, of course).

  2. What a lovely American Museum in Britain post. The details in Fran’s descriptions so beautifully noted bring back vivid memories of our delightful visit there.

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