Skinner Auctions
Skinner AuctionsBoston MA
March 2, 2019 10:00 AMCalender

Remarkable Pieced and Appliqued Cotton Civil War Memorial Quilt

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Auction: American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 3222BLocation: BostonDate / Time: March 02, 2019 10:00AM


Remarkable Pieced and Appliqued Cotton Civil War Memorial Quilt, made by Mary Bell Shawvan, c. 1863, composed of solid color and calico printed cotton, depicting a central spreadwing eagle with shield surrounded by meandering flowering vines and grapevines with perched birds; the leaves, flowers, birds, and fruit stuffed for a three-dimensional effect, black silk accenting the birds' wings and tails, yellow-orange floral print ground, dark green scalloped border quilted in a scallop pattern, off-white muslin backing, (minor imperfections),84 x 81 1/2 in.

Provenance: By family descent. Skinner, November 1, 2003, Lot 102, to a private Massachusetts collection.

Literature: This quilt and the family's story is illustrated in Wisconsin Quilts: Stories in the Stitches, by Ellen Cort, Howell Press, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2001, illustrated on the cover and on pp. 42 and 44.

Note: According to oral family history, the quilt was made by Mary Bell, or Polly as she was known to her friends. In 1854 she married John Shawvan, then began farming in Dodge county. By 1860 they had six children and though John had substantial family obligations, he enlisted, at 34 years of age, into the Union army October 26, 1861 and was assigned to Company B of the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He was later promoted to the rank of Sergeant and was a color bearer in many battles. Mary assumed full responsibility for the farm, managing the household and caring for the children. During the time he was away she created this quilt for him to share when he returned home. In September, 1863, Sergeant Shawvan's unit, the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, was sent to south Tennessee and participated in the second-bloodiest fight of the entire Civil War, the Battle of Chickamauga. According to Reverend John McNamara, Chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin, "At Chickamauga eighty percent of the regiment was killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. Five officers were killed, five wounded, and three taken prisoners. The color sergeant was killed; the next taking the colors was wounded in three places." Sadly, the color sergeant listed was John Shawvan. He was mortally wounded on the second day of the battle and died on September 22, 1863, at a military hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Polly and the children were left to rely on a Civil War widow's pension. Included in the lot is a needlework sampler stitched by "Polly M. Bell age 11" (Mary's nickname),with silk threads on a linen ground; also photocopies of signed affidavits regarding Mary and John Shawvan, probably helping to provide compensation to the widow and children, including John Shawvan's Certificate of Service, a document signed by the Justice of the Peace verifying he married the couple July 14, 1844, a document signed by Sally Bell (Mary's mother) stating that the births and birthdates of the couple's children entered into the family bible are correct. Also included are some photocopied pages from the Military History of Wisconsin, regarding the Battle of Chickamauga. In it John Shawvan is listed as dying of wounds received in the battle.
Estimate $40,000-60,000

The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Condition requests can be obtained via email (lot inquiry button) or by telephone to the appropriate gallery location (Boston/617.350.5400 or Marlborough/508.970.3000). Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner Inc. shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.


John McNamara, Mary Bell Shawvan, Mary Bell, John Shawvan, Sally Bell, Charlottesville, Chattanooga