Quilt of the Month

August 2007

August 2007

"A Century of Progress"
Made by Ida Mae Stow
Made in Chicago, Illinois, United States
Dated 1933
92 x 76 inches (232 x 193 centimeters)
IQSC 1997.007.0947
Ardis and Robert James Collection of Antique and Contemporary Quilts
American Quilts in the Modern Age, 1870-1940 Exhibition

Ida Mae Stow's extraordinary silk quilt translates the 1933 Chicago's World Fair logo and theme, "A Century of Progress," into cloth. The quilt, submitted to the Sears Roebuck & Co. quilt contest held in conjunction with the World's Fair, commemorated Chicago's growth and progress since its founding 100 years earlier. The wide borders framing the logo are quilted with images of a variety of modes of transportation, from wagons to automobiles to locomotives, as well as Chicago's architecture, from old Fort Dearborn to its modern-day skyline.

Mrs. Stow received an Honorable Mention from the contest judges. She was disappointed that none of the commemorative quilts, which were often of strikingly modern design, were awarded major prizes and was convinced that they had not been fairly judged. She wrote a letter to the Sears Company dated June 6, 1933, in which she protested the unfair treatment of these specially-designed quilts. Sears responded by holding an exhibition of the commemorative quilts in 1934 - a photo shows that Ida Stow's quilt was placed front and center!

The full design and location of the Stow quilt remained a mystery until 1991, though Ida had years before sent a copy of her letter to a quilt historian. When antique collectors purchased the quilt, they discovered that on the back corner of the quilt, a contest entry label had been covered over by a sewn-on handkerchief. At last, Ida Stow's quilt had come to light.