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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com
Tales of a Textile Collector
1933 World's Fair textiles
by Kimberly Wulfert

I could not think of a historical topic that coincided with the Stack n’ Whack theme of the January 26, 2002 NPN issue. So, I thought the readers might enjoy hearing about my lucky antique finds!

I say lucky, but I really think I am supposed to have it. You collectors know what I mean. You get this thought, this 'sixth sense' kind of thought in your head that tells you -- "You need to go to such and such shop NOW!." The timing is not good, of course, you are too busy, too broke, too tired, just too , to think of adding an antiquing excursion . . . but the thought keeps talking away. Soon, you are working a short trip into your plans. Yesterday this happened to me, again.

I was at my office when suddenly I heard that I must go to an antique store I like very much. It is about a half-hour drive, and in the wrong direction from anywhere I go. It is a great shop, with many vendors, fair prices, real old antiques, and nice people. It was late in the day, and traffic home could be a problem, but I could not get shirk the feeling. So, I decided I had better heed the call. I have had it before, and it usually turns out good!

I was there about 45 minutes, with a couple of nice textile pieces in my hand, but nothing special, no “for sures” or “gotta haves,” . . . and then I saw it!! It was mixed in with crocheted tablecloths, tucked under a table. I do not even know how I could see it, except that I, yes I, was suppose to have It. So, it peaked out and waved at me (sort of). It must have, because I seldom go for shiny textiles, and this one was.

The hand-strung cotton fringe got me first, and I gently unfolded the wad so a woven table-topper could come out. On a cotton background made with gold metallic thread, shiny rayon thread in yellow, lavender, silver and brown (made to look like silk back then) formed a picture of Fort Dearborn and the Chicago skyline with the dates 1833 - 1933 across the bottom and Chicago across the top. It was commemorating the Chicago World’s Fair, also known in the quilt world as “The Century of Progress Quilt Contest.” It is also dated with “Desig. Reg. USA 1932.”

I love, and therefore collect, commemorative textiles. What’s more, Chicago suburbs were home for all my pre-college school years. My dad went to the Fair! His mother, Ethel Schneider Wulfert, was an obsessed antique collector back then. Her house was full of Civil War and Victorian furnishings. She introduced me to this passion. It was going through her packed attic that made me love to shop in antique stores as opposed to garage sales or thrift stores. The atmosphere adds so much to the experience of the hunt, which is half the fun in my opinion.

This textile is in beautiful condition. I have other items from that Fair, but this was my first textile. I thanked the voice and affirmed to myself that I will always listen to it. Little did I know the opportunity would come so soon!

I walked toward the front of the store to check out and my eyes landed on a lace pane. This brought me to a booth I usually skip. While there, I noticed under a table, under a cotton tablecloth another needlework piece waving at me. It, too, is unlike what I usually go for, but I pulled, and out came another Century of Progress Commemorative textile!! I could not believe my luck. It is a drawn thread lace panel, rectangular shaped, 50” X 17”, depicting the Fair’s buildings and transportation vehicles used between 1833 and 1933. The dates, and the World’s Fair and Chicago buildings are on it, too. It is machine made, but delicate and in perfect condition. Wow!

Two commemorative textiles, two vendors, one shop, one stop -- Thank you little voice for urging me on and keeping my mind and eyes open.

If you would like to know more about this Quilt Contest sponsored by Sears in 1933, Merikay Waldvogel and Barbara Brackman wrote a book on it called “Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World’s Fair,” published by Rutledge Hill Press in 1993 and available through Amazon's used book listings.

Tales of a Collector appeared in an Nine Patch News article for their Jan 26, 2002 issue.


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© 2002 - 2016 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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