A Circus Bedquilt — Maxfield Parrish

In 1904 The Ladies Home Journal, as part of their promotion of “Quilts as an Art Form,” commissioned 5 famous artists and illustrators to design quilts for their magazine. The Better Homes and Gardens publication, Century of Quilts, contains an interesting article about these designs with black and white photos of three of the quilts by Maxfield Parrish, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Jessie Wilcox Smith. All of the submitted designs were for applique and, as you might expect from artists who were not quilters, were extremely complex. Ladies Home Journal had planned to provide patterns for the quilts, but never did, stating that “practical obstacles” made it impossible.

Here are the three black and white designs in the BH&G book.


Amazingly, BH&G found an actual quilt made by Ada Luise Smith Hildner for her first child. Ada drafted the pattern from the black and white photo in the 1905 LHJ magazine and used Parrish’s suggested colors — he was very descriptive about the colors. Ada is my hero.

For several months I was obsessed with The Circus Bedquilt, and with finding a photo of the original painting which I discovered was housed in a Denver museum. I did find a print for sale, but the colors didn’t look anything like Ada’s quilt or Parrish’s description as you can see in this photo.

I contacted the Denver museum and they kindly e-mailed a photo of the original painting. I was thrilled because I could finally see the actual colors (which are very similar to Ada’s quilt). I cropped, straightened and enlarged the photo, but since it was not a very large image to begin with, my enlarged pattern was very pixelated. it didn’t look great, but I thought it was the best I could do.

Then, last weekend I found an auction site where the original painting sold just this month for $17,200.01. If you registered at the site, you could access a larger photo. So I did, and look what I got — a humongous, fabulous image of the actual painting (way too big to upload the original size here, but you get the idea)….

….which I enlarged and tile printed into this 48″ pattern where you can still see all of the details.

I promised myself I would ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY not start this quilt until I finish hand quilting one of my unfinished tops — maybe the Ocean Waves (thank you everyone for your nice comments!). I can still plan it in my head, though — it will be appliqued, of course, and probably with the facial details embroidered. I am thinking those zebra stripes might be painted, rather than appliqued (like Ada’s) or embroidered (that’s a lot of satin stitch), but I’m still mulling it over.

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