Tuesday, July 3, 2018

My Connections to "The Gossips"

"The Gossips"

Patricia L. Cummings

Years ago I first came across the now iconic image that has taken on the name "The Gossips." It is printed in The Index to American Design. Subsequently, it was re-printed in Woman's Day Book of American Needlework  (1963) with the caption:  "The Gossips, a humorous picture, 11" x 12", appliqued in silk about 1830 by Eunice W. Cook." The photo is attributed to the National Gallery of Art, Index of American Design. That photo is not the original quilt block but rather is a watercolor rendering on paper by Carmel Wilson, a painter for the WPA during the Great Depression. That paper copy measures 14 1/16" x 15 3/16" and was made circa 1938. I will not re-publish that image here as it is under copyright by the National Gallery of Art which charges a hefty fee for publication. The image did appear as a full-page photo in my article for The Quilter magazine.

Note:  Since writing the above paragraph, I noticed that the National Gallery of Art has posted an image of Carmel Wilson's graphite and watercolor image of "The Gossips" online at:

My next encounter with "The Gossips" was when I found a pattern by Jan Kornfeind of Country Appliques when I was shopping at a fabric outlet in Claremont, New Hampshire. Using that pattern, I created a reproduction adding various other elements such as a rug, a cat, and a portion of a lace handkerchief with Eunice's name and the date the project was made.  I added a tea cup rather than a handkerchief. Here is my version.

"The Gossips" reproduction made by Patricia Cummings

I wrote an article about "The Gossips" in the March 2002 issue of The Quilter magazine (All-American Crafts Inc.). According to the book Artists in Aprons:  Folk Art by American Women by C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell and Marsha MacDowell, the original creation has been "lost." Recently, however, that statement has been proven false by a researcher who located Eunice Ware Cook's great, great, great granddaughter who still has the original item. That is good news!

Angular version of "Comic Patchwork" as seen in Eva M. Niles' book. She created a chart related to the numbers to designate which colors to use for a silk patchwork carriage bag patch.

Artists who work in other mediums have also wanted to re-create "The Gossips" and have done so in canvas work, paintings, embroidery, and presumably in making carriage bags if they followed the advice of Eva Marie Niles in her 1884 book that showed a similar, very angular design she called "Comic Patchwork." The book, Fancy Work Recreations;  Knitting, Crochet & Home Adornments was a gift to me by my friend, Virginia Stevens. In studying Niles' line drawing, I discovered that there is a missing line that is critical to the design. I drew it in when I made a copy of the line drawing and the added line is shown in red in the drawing published in The Quilter magazine.

"Mimi's Garden" by Teresa Shippy

Funny how all of these coincidences came into being at about the same time to tell the story of this design. I guess it pays to read a lot and to pay attention to detail! I am proud of my work and findings and the presentation of "The Gossips" to a new audience today. I inspired at least one quilt artist to re-create the design, giving her own spin to it, and calling it "Mimi's Garden". I now own that quilt!

19th century line drawing from catalog, colorized by Patricia L. Cummings

Subsequently, I found a line drawing in a 19th century catalog of drawings for outline stitch embroidery. I enlarged the sketch, cleaned up some of the lines, and colorized the drawing, printing it on fabric and then making it into a small quilt.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of "The Gossips." I have other images but the ones shown give you a good idea of the design and some of the derivative works.

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