Reflections of the Exotic East | Middle East & North Africa

Tile quilt
Circa 1876
Possibly made in New London, Connecticut
IQSCM 1997.007.0163, Ardis and Robert James Collection

Two wild-looking horsemen spring into action at the center of this busy quilt top. They are wearing robes reminiscent of Arab nomads, and one of the horses has the star and crescent on its tackle, pointing to a Muslim identity for the riders. Like the horseman in the chintz strip quilt in this exhibition, these riders represent Western notions of exotic Middle-Eastern life. Other Eastern cultures are represented as well. For instance, the pagoda (bottom left) remained one of the most commonly used symbols for China throughout the nineteenth century. The crane (middle right) is both a Chinese and Japanese symbol of peace. And the lotus (two locations—middle right and top left) is a Buddhist symbol of purity found in Chinese, Indian and Japanese art.

A fashion for turbans and kimonos, the popularity of Rudolph Valentino movies such as The Young Rajah and The Sheik, and Chinese-inspired home furnishings demonstrate the popularity of Oriental themes in vogue in the 1920s and 1930s in America.

Style and Construction Note: Although Tile quilts like this one—which are constructed from densely appliquéd cotton fabrics—resemble the Crazy quilts of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, most of them actually pre-date the typical silk Crazy quilts and can therefore be considered possible prototypes for the later, fancier style.