Woven History

Hello!  My name is Carly and I am one of the curatorial interns at Historic Huguenot Street for the Fall 2016 semester. My first object of the week is about this woven coverlet in our collection. This coverlet was owned by Ida DuBois Brink, a descendant of the DuBois family, one of the founding families of Huguenot Street. The exact date of creation is unknown, but it can be said with certainty that it was made before Ida DuBois Brink married Egbert Brink in 1844. It was graciously donated to us by Audrey Coons Foster, the great, great granddaughter of Ida DuBois Brink.

brinkcoverlet1

Woven coverlets, such as this one were used to decorate and cover the tops of beds, but they were much more than just a mere household adornment. The creation of coverlets was a crafting tradition that began in the earliest days of the American colonies and continued through the 19th century. The woven textiles were not easy to produce. Their patterns were created by weaving fiber (mostly cotton and wool), row by row, on a large loom. Therefore, woven coverlets were a symbol of craftsmanship and skill for the creator, wealth for the owner who could afford to commission one. In addition to these aspects, they also served as a mode of documentation. They often included patterns and motifs that give us clues as to what the values of the patron were, which in turn gives us clues of the historical context. Woven coverlets often included an inscription on the border that included the name of who the coverlet was made for and the place in which it was made.

Mrs. DuBois Brink’s coverlet is a beautiful example of a figured and fancy, or jacquard coverlet. Woven coverlets were originally made into linear geometric patterns that could easily be made using the cumbersome loom. However, with the invention of a new loom attachment that made more complex patterns possible, the fancy and figured style was born. In this style, the patterns are curvilinear and more realistic, and include various different motifs such as floral, animal, and architectural. Although the production of these coverlets was made easier by the new technology, the process was still complicated. Therefore, most figured and fancy coverlets were produced by professional weavers, the majority of whom were male immigrants who trained their craft overseas in countries such as England and Ireland.

This coverlet has many interesting details that tell us a little about who the patroness was and what the time period in which she lived was like. One of the first striking things about the object is its color. It is a deep, rich red contrasted with cream stitching that makes up its patterning. In New York, formal and stately designs using blue and white and red and white were common for this type of coverlet. These colors, our national colors, must have something to do with how people viewed America and their relationship to it. During this this time in American history, the a free country and the revolution were still fresh and present in people’s minds. Americans were proud of their heritage and the bravery of their forefathers. This manifested itself in the production and display of any and all works of art and household decorations that had to do with patriotism and our nation’s history. Perhaps Ida DuBois Brink chose this color for her coverlet to show off her own patriotism.

Following with this idea, the coverlet also includes another similar motif. Repeatedly woven throughout the textile is the federal eagle, the official seal of the United States. Underneath the eagle, one of the nation’s mottos, “E pluribus unum,” is woven. This Latin phrase roughly translates to “Out of many, one” and, along with the eagle, evokes patriotism and harkens back to the Revolutionary days, when the people of the colonies banded together to create one nation.

Another motif found in the coverlet, the strawberry motif, diverts from this nationalistic theme and tells us more about Ida DuBois Brink herself. The strawberry has been used for hundreds of years in many different religions and cultures to symbolize different things. It can symbolize spring and rebirth, righteousness and love, and passion and purity among many other things. We cannot say for sure which of these things she wanted express by having them included in her coverlet, but we can assume with some certainty that she did want to express something about herself and show herself in a positive light to all who viewed this object.

Probably the most telling part of this woven coverlet is the inscription on its border. The inscription reads “ULSTER COUNTY. N-Y. IDA DUBOIS. LIBERTY-VILLE”. Right away, this tells us two things: who the coverlet was made for and where it was made. It was made, of course, for Ida DuBois, but more importantly, since it just includes her maiden name, it was probably made before 1844 when she married Egbert Nelson Brink, allowing us to roughly date it by the inscription as well. The fact that it was made in Ulster County in Libertyville tells us a lot as well.  Libertyville is a small hamlet in the Town of New Paltz, not far from Historic Huguenot Street. It originally was a farming community, and the DuBois family was one of the main farming families. Therefore, Ida DuBois Brink had some familial connection to Libertyville as well. In this hamlet ran the Libertyville Woolen Mill, which specialized in fancy coverlet weaving. Therefore, that was probably the location where this coverlet was made. Also, interestingly, the mill was run by both the Lowe family and the DuBois family, making an even deeper personal connection between the client and her coverlet.

This stunning coverlet is a treasured addition to our collection and an excellent example of the American tradition of woven coverlets. It demonstrates how these pieces were much more than just bed covers. They were examples of the highest level of craftsmanship. They were personal and customized objects that showed off the values and beliefs of the owner and were representative of times as well. They were truly objects of pride and the centerpieces of many American households. So next time you happen upon one of these coverlets, don’t dismiss it as just a nice decoration. Take a closer look and unlock a treasure trove of history!

Sources

“What is a Coverlet.” The National Museum of the American Coverlet. The National Museum of the American Coverlet website. The National Museum of the American Coverlet. Bedford, PA. Web. 8 September 2016.

“What do Strawberries Symbolize.” Reference.com. Web. 8 September 2016.

“Woven Coverlets Tell Story of Past.” The History Center. Tompkins County, NY. Web. 8 September 2016.

“Town of New Paltz Hamlet Histories: Libertyville.” Historic Preservation Commission. New Paltz, NY. Web. 8 September 2016.

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