Off the Wall: A Stitch in Time

A recurring feature, "Off the Wall" spotlights local curators and the works they most want to share with Pelican Bomb readers, drawing special attention to the state's diverse public collections.

Matilda Tarleton Leake, Silk “crazy quilt” (detail), 1884. Courtesy the Louisiana State Museum.

Who: Wayne Phillips, Curator of Costumes and Textiles

Where: Louisiana State Museum (a complex of state-supported history museums, which includes the Cabildo, Presbytere, Old U.S. Mint, and 1850 House in New Orleans, as well as properties throughout the state)

What: This “crazy quilt” is composed of over 1,200 individual silk patches sewn together in nearly 400 varieties of stitches. A masterwork by the young quilter Matilda Tarleton Leake (who was 29 years old at the time), the quilt pays tribute to the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. Essentially a World’s Fair, the event took place in New Orleans in 1884-1885 to honor the centennial of the first overseas shipment of American-grown cotton. The quilt contains dozens of symbols of Louisiana industries, pastimes, wildlife, and historical figures—most executed as ingenious three-dimensional embellishments around the border of the quilt. It also displays hand-painted images of the buildings erected for the Exposition on the grounds of today’s Audubon Park.

When: Made in 1884, the quilt was finally donated to the Louisiana State Museum in 2008 by a descendant of the original maker. It will be displayed for the first time at the Louisiana State Museum in 2012 in an exhibition celebrating the bicentennial of Louisiana statehood.

Why: Quilt artists, like many who work in the applied arts, often get less respect than those who work in the fine arts. Nonetheless, this quilt is an exceptional work of art that took months to create and required a keen eye for combining myriad shapes and colors into a unified design.

Matilda Tarleton Leake, Silk “crazy quilt,” 1884. Courtesy the Louisiana State Museum.