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Knowledge and Material Progress

A decade before Utah proudly presented their first state flag at the 1903 World’s Fair, English immigrant and Utah pioneer, Emma Bull, created her “crazy quilt” for display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (also called the World’s Fair).

The exposition celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival, and featured exhibits from all over the country and the world, from Austria to Greece. Specifically, Emma Bull’s quilt was displayed in the newly built Woman’s Building.

The Official Guide to the exposition describes how the the Board of Lady Managers created the building to exhibit “everything that woman in the past had contributed, or is contributing toward the common stock of knowledge and material progress.”

It was a space for women artisans and writers to exhibit their work, and a space to celebrate the contributions of women in the past.

Emma Bull’s Crazy Quilt was one of these valuable contributions, a mixture of symbols from both her English heritage and her life as a Utahn, at a time that Utah was still a territory.

“Crazy quilts” were a style that became popular in the late 1800s, and instead of blankets, they were luxurious displays of affluence, showing that the creator had the time and skill to create one. As an actor and seamstress for the Dramatic Association, at the time performing at the Salt Lake Theater, Bull had the opportunity to display her detailed craftsmanship in the quilt.

These types of quilts have a common “fairyland theme” with flowers and birds, but more importantly the quilts include symbols of the maker’s life and identity.

Looking into the rainbow of colors and fabrics, one can find images from Bull’s life in England, such as the British Union Jack, and an anchor. There are also the well known symbols of Utah and of Bull’s LDS faith stitched into the quilt, including the Salt Lake Temple, the beehive, a sego lily, and Eagle Gate. She also stitched the Big Dipper, which points to the Temple on her quilt. On the actual Temple the Big Dipper is carved in the west middle tower.

She ensured to represent her pioneer life with an image of a wooden cabin, as well as an image of a printing press that she calls a “pioneer press,” with the year that the pioneers arrived, 1847. The cabin is thought to possibly be the Deuel Log Home, which can be found in Salt Lake City today west of the Tabernacle.

In the upper left corner, there’s a seemingly out of place spider web, which was used as a symbol of good luck. You can also find a golden harp along with some finely stitched music notes, relating to Bull’s work with the theater in Salt Lake.

This combination of images and colors worked to not only display Bull’s identity as the maker, but, like the first flag, it also displayed Utah’s identity as a territory and eventually, state.

Written by Michelle James

category: Symbolism
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