Monday, January 15, 2018

Clara Gillham's Mother's Floral

I am Honorary Curator of Quilts at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. We have in our collection this quilt which is catalogued as a unique rose. It was donated so long ago its
accession number is 0000.0038---which means in the teens or 1920s before accession numbers were assigned.

The donor was Clara Gillham, a University Librarian who said her mother'd made it. I'd never seen another like it and so it has remained "Unknown pattern by Clara Gillham's mother."

But I recently found this twin from an online auction. Almost the same. It's missing the yellow shape in the center and it's a little tighter in design.

Here's the Spencer's quilt, which I've dated 1840-1880 because
of the applique and quilting styles, the red and green fabrics and the fancy border.

And here's the other example. Looks to be about the same time.
The pattern is still unknown but I was motivated to find out more about
Clara's mother.

Clarissa Scioto Gillham 1860-1938

Clarissa was a member of the class of 1884 at the University of Kansas. After graduation she became a librarian at the University Library in Spooner Hall. How she wound up in Lawrence, Kansas in 1880 I cannot say, but she was born near Alton, Illinois into a family of "old settlers." Her Gillham family had come from South Carolina and Virginia by way of Kentucky to Chouteau on the American Bottom directly east of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. 

Map of the east side of the Mississippi

See the arrow at the very top of the map across from St. Louis, which was a large French settlement when the Gillhams arrived. Nearby Cahokia was an older community of Indian settlers.

Father Samuel Parker Gillham was born in the American Bottom area in 1809. Mother Oletha (or Olathe) Wilson was born in 1818 in Pike County, Ohio, through which the Scioto River runs. In 1841 she married Thornton W. Ware who died young, leaving her perhaps with one son. Samuel's first wife had died leaving him with ten children. In 1856 they married. It appears Clara was the youngest of the 13 children from the combined family.

Oletha Wilson Ware (1818-1878) was Clarissa Scioto Gillham's mother and the quiltmaker. Both parents died when Clara was about 18, so this quilt must have been one of her treasured possessions.

Quilt by Oletha Wilson Ware Gillham (1818-1878), Ohio or Illinois,

The quiltmaker now has a name even if the pattern doesn't. It makes for a better caption.

Samuel Parker Gillham (1809-1878)
Clara's father

There is more to the story of the Gillham family. Samuel's family had come to Illinois for unusual reasons. One day in 1790 Kentucky farmer James Gillham returned home to find his wife and children captured by Indians. His five-year quest to find them led him to the Kickapoo country near what is now Springfield, Illinois. With the help of a Cahokia trader he ransomed his family. They decided to stay in the area and the government compensated wife Ann Barnett Gillham (1756-1819) with an Illinois land grant, which is where Samuel was born. Samuel recalled that he never could figure out the actual truth of the story; it must have been told and retold down to Clara's generation.

Print this out and double it for a pattern of sorts.

I forgot to put the Encyclopedia of Applique number in.
It's 14.78 Unnamed.


  1. Nice to know the family story of this beautiful quilt! I love the design.

  2. Another great one....the story and the quilt. Love the design.

  3. The green leaves remind me of a Prickly Pear Cactus. In Oro Valley, Arizona there is a street named Scioto Avenue. Coincidence ?

  4. Scioto is a river in Ohio. I thought about calling it Scioto Rose.