Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts

When we started the Texas Quilt Search, we were told by authorities not to expect many fine old quilts to come out of what had long been a frontier area. We were told that those quilts were limited to Eastern areas settled far earlier than the Lone Star State. We were warned not to be disappointed. After three years of research, thousands of miles of travel, and hundreds of hours interviewing quilt owners, we can say with certainty that Texas and Texans proved them wrong. Texas is a rich repository of treasures from the past, quilts with stories to tell that demonstrate their worth not only as art but also as a cultural record of a pioneer people.
Pictured here are quilts either made in Texas prior to the state’s Centennial in 1936 or brought to Texas before 1936. Because Texas actually started as a land dependent on migration to settle millions of empty acres of often hostile territory, it seems unfair to exclude those quilts that, with their owners, had picked up stakes and “Gone To Texas” years ago. Just as the men and women from South Carolina, from Tennessee, from Kentucky, from Alabama put down roots and turned Texan, so can these quilts now claim long-term Texas residency.
Through the years a controversy has raged over the origin of the “Gone To Texas” phrase. For many years in the Texas public schools, students were taught that when a farm family had exhausted their land elsewhere they would pack up everything they owned, abandon the old farm, scrawl “GTT” on their doors, and head for Texas with its promise of cheap, fertile land and a new beginning. Their neighbors knew, when they came across the “GTT” scrawl, that the family would not be seen again.
However, Cecelia Steinfeldt, one of the guest curators for this project, presents another view of “Gone To Texas” in Texas Folk Art:

At the time of the widespread expansion, the initials G.T.T. acquired a special meaning. They stood for “Gone To Texas” and were usually associated with those unfortunate enough to have fallen afoul of the law—those more adventurous spirits who dared to take advantage of the potential of a wild and untamed land. In 1884, Thomas Hughes wrote a book entitled G.T.T., where he observed: “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, ‘G.T.T.’ as you’d say ‘gone to the devil’ or ‘gone to the dogs’” Certainly not all of early Texas settlers could be considered lawless, but a common denominator of earthiness and arbitrariness became a sort of catalyst influential in the origin of the state’s naïve art tradition. (p. 12)
Whatever their origins, all these quilts are now Texas quilts. They have been examined, studied, and documented. They were selected based on several criteria: first and most important, they were selected on visual impact; second, they were selected for their historical importance; and, third, they were selected on the basis of family documentation.
The result is a book that reflects the many stunning quilts in Texas. The title “Lone Stars” refers not to the traditional Lone Star quilt pattern, as many might expect. Instead it was chosen to reflect the fact that each of these quilts is a star in its own right and that each of the quiltmakers was a lone artist. Working in isolation in many instances, working under often primitive conditions, working with frugality ever uppermost in their minds, working to leave behind a record of lived, loved, and toiled, these quiltmakers succeeded in bequeathing something of value to generations to come. “I reckon everybody wants to leave somethin’ behind that’ll last after they’re dead and gone. It don’t look like it’s worthwhile to live unless you can do that” (Aunt Jane of Kentucky, ca. 1900, taken from Anonymous Was a Woman, p.106).

Text reproduced with permission from “100 Years of Texas Quilts,” Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts, Vol. 1, Karey Patterson Bresenhan and Nancy O'Bryant Puentes, p. 21.
  • Documentation Project

    Texas Quilt Search

    University of Texas at Austin, Texas Sesquecentennial Quilt Association

  • Ephemera

    Womenfolk 61. The Lone Star Quilt Desi...

    Breneman, Judy Anne

  • 1800-1849

    Mosaic Star

    Hayne, Mary Hopkins...

  • 1854

    Double Irish Chai...

    Spicer, Harriet Sop...

  • Democrat Rose

    Smyth, Mrs. Joseph ...

  • 1868

    Texas Star Friend...

    M.,J.E.; Johnson, A...

  • 1850-1875

    Rails through the...

    Williams, Ellen Pri...

  • 1850-1875

    Blazing Star

    Denman, Mary

  • 1876

    Vase of Roses and...

    Davidson, Josie

  • 1876-1900

    Princess Feather

    Christian, Bashie S...

  • 1876-1900

    Carpenter's Squar...

    Wilson, Martha Harr...

  • 1876-1900

    TEXAS Quilt

    Callan, Nancy Rebec...

  • 1876-1900

    Harrison Rose

    Dickerson, Almeda B...

  • ca. 1910

    Target Quilt

    Clark, Lorah Sasser...

  • 1911

    Crazy Quilt

    Florence, Julia Sav...

  • 1918

    Red Cross Quilt

    Stanfield, Anna Cla...

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