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Colonial Sense took a trip with the long time antiques dealer Robert Leese to the National Museum of the American Coverlet in Bedford, Pennsylvania on Memorial Day Weekend. This was the fifth year anniversary for the museum which opened Memorial Day Weekend in 2006. We were accompanied by the founders Melinda and Laszlo Zongor, and C. Douglas Schmidt who is President of the Cumberland Cultural Foundation and oversees the C. William Gilchrist Gallery in Cumberland, Maryland. Melinda is the Museum Director and Curator.
From left to right- C. Douglas Schmidt, Melinda Zongor, Laszlo Zongor, Martha Staub, and Bob Leese
Robert Leese brought a handful of coverlets from his own collection for open discussion with the Zongors on the maker and the life of each weaver. We learned how to tell the difference between a coverlet completed by a Pennsylvania German and a weaver who completed their coverlet in New York. Bob is from the Hanover area in Pennsylvania and most of his collection is from this area. He also has coverlets from other parts of the country including Canada. Parts of the discussion made mention of the most common types of weave such as tied-Biederwand, jacquard, double weave, and summer and winter.
Hanover coverlet donated to the Museum
One of the coverlets which Bob bought in Maryland a few weeks ago and originated from the Baltimore area had a design that the Zongors have not seen in a coverlet. It is thought to be made around the time of the Civil War and had floating threads lying on the top of the coverlet design. It was obvious that the design of the coverlet would lead to easy damage. The Baltimore coverlet was donated to the museum.
The Civil War era Baltimore coverlet donated to the Museum
Another coverlet donated to the museum was a Hanover coverlet from the mid nineteenth century in four colors with snowflake corner blocks which was purchased at the Elgin sale at Pook and Pook. Bob also donated an 1845 PH Rassweiler coverlet from Orwigsburg and home spun wool with a stitching pattern on it.
Bob relayed a story how he purchased one half of a Jacob C. Schriver jacquard coverlet made in Hampton, Adams County in 1841 many years ago.When he visited a house in New Oxford, he noticed the family had the other half of the Schriver coverlet. It took a little coaxing to sell the one piece, but in the end Bob was successful in making the two pieces come together.
1845 PH Rasweiler coverlet donated to the Museum
What made this tour so special was the overwhelming passion that the Melinda and Laszlo Zongor displayed on the history of each coverlet made. They are willing to go that extra mile to make sure the person on the tour has a greater understanding of the importance of the coverlet as an art form. The interest that the person shows as a viewer is directly related to how much time the tour guide will take in showing you the exhibit.
All of us at the museum show such passion in collecting and the antique industry. Dough Schmidt relayed his wonderful purchases at auction that day. He was the former owner of the Abbot House in Abottstown, Pennsylvania. His love of architecture was evident in his conversation.
The National Museum of the American Coverlet has more than 300 pieces. We then toured the current exhibit of coverlets on display which were either not easily identifiable or the maker was unknown. There were geometric and figured coverlets displayed on the tour. Some of the coverlets Melinda thought were completed by a member of the family and not by the famous weaver in the family.
A Coverlet on exhibition
The museum has a collection of old looms and spinning wheels, squirrel cage and regular yarn winders, flax scutching items. There was an exhibit on linen and wool processing. Check out our article on jacquard coverlets which were woven mostly in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey.
The National Museum of the American Coverlet is in the old Bedford Common School which was built in 1859. It is a thirty thousand square foot brick building which has a stone foundation and sits on two acres located in the historic district. The second floor of the building is used by other businesses.
An assortment of spinning wheels
The Board of Directors consists of museum professionals and coverlet enthusiasts including Melinda and Laszlo Zongor; C. Douglas Schmidt; Eva Burnham of Montreal, Canada, a costume and textile conservator/restorer; Jes Horwath of Illinois, a board member of the Colonial Coverlet Guild of America; Edward Maeder of Historic Deerfield; Ron Walter, a Researcher, Collector, and author who has researched Bucks country coverlets; Richard Jeryan who studies, teaches, and practices the weaving craft at Greenfield Village and his wife Christine Jeryan who has spent her life in Museum Services, scientific research, writing and editing; Jude Fera of Connecticut, ex-officio member of the museum board, who will lead the Collectors' Council, an adjunct group of coverlet collectors who will organize its own special events and programs as well as fund-raising efforts to supplement museum activities.
A coverlet loom
Melinda Zongor has had interest in the antique industry for 35 years and has specialized in coverlets for more than twenty years. Her passion for coverlets was born out of weaving coverlets independently and for a weaving house. She is the author of Coverlets and the Spirit of American: The Shein Collection and Coverlets at the Gilchrist: American Coverlets 1771-1889.
Linen Processing and a reproduction painting of a flax scutching festival
The National Museum of the American Coverlet is the only institution open year round which is devoted to the research and study of the coverlet as an art form. Courses are offered in rug hooking, natural dyeing, beginning and advanced weaving, and spinning with wool.
The museum is currently seeking funding for the huge expense of repairing the leaky roof. As we were touring the facility, a torrential rain was falling. Melinda and Laszlo held their composure, but I am sure they felt sadness with every raindrop entering their beloved 1859 Common School in Bedford. Donations are accepted.
Melinda Zongor giving us a tour of the coverlet collection
In addition to coverlets, the National Museum of the American Coverlet also has a collection of ingrain carpeting which was displayed in one of the room settings. Unlike other museums who store their coverlets without ever showing them, NMAC devotes the museum to the exhibition, study, education and research of coverlets.
Be sure to visit The National Museum of the American Coverlet is at 322 South Juliana Street. For information, contact 814-623-1588. NMAC has a Museum shop where books, gifts, and reproduction fabrics can be purchased, a reference library, and space for workshops and seminars.
Source: Text & photos by Bryan Wright
National Museum of the American Coverlet
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