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Eli Lilly Family Quilt


When contemplating the future of the Lilly Quilt, I felt that Indianapolis might be its natural resting place because of the Eli Lilly Family. A strong secondary reason for placing the quilt in Indianapolis was climate. As I left New York City, I did not want to bring this wonderful piece of history to Florida’s neotropical environment. I am happy that it has found its natural home at the IMA.

-Louise E. Francke

Album quilts were very fashionable between 1840 and 1860. Album quilt blocks were made and signed by a number of women, and the quilt was presented to an honored recipient. This historically significant quilt was signed by friends and family of Eli Lilly (1780-1847) at his bedside during his final illness. He signed the block with the lyre, and his third child (father of Colonel Eli Lilly, who founded Eli Lilly and Company) signed the block above the lyre. Minerva Ann Lilly, the ninth child, signed the bottom block with the fruit basket. The donor, Mrs. Louise Emerson Francke, is her great-granddaughter.

Louise Emerson Franke{1}, Maryland; given to Indianapolis Museum of Art (1996).
{1} The great-great-granddaughter of Eli Lilly of Baltimore County, Maryland

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Commemorative album quilts were popular in the United States between 1840 and 1860. These quilts were typically cooperative endeavors, made by a number of women. The finished work was presented to an honored recipient such as a teacher, minister, or other important community member. This beautiful quilt, however, belongs to a type sometimes referred to as a "death watch quilt." It was made in 1847, the year of his death, to honor Eli Lilly, grandfather of Colonel Eli Lilly, who in 1876 founded the Indianapolis pharmaceutical firm named for him. Twenty of the blocks were signed by the friends and family who gathered at Lilly's bedside during his final days, and his own signature appears in the block with the lyre.

The most elaborate album quilts came from Maryland's Baltimore County and are called Baltimore album quilts. In this accomplished example, a green-and-red-swag border frames floral blocks in vivid hues. Wreaths, floral sprays, cornucopias, and baskets-traditional album-quilt motifs-fill the central area. Elaborately drawn and expertly appliquéd patterns make this quilt a particularly successful instance of a timeless American art form.

[This] quilt was created by the Lilly family, along with spouses and friends, during the long months of 1847 [when] Eli Lilly lay ill.
-Louise Francke, 1996

Object Information

creation date
cotton appliquéd, pieced and embroidered
104 1/2 x 105 in.
accession number
credit line
Gift of Louise Emerson Francke, a great great granddaughter of Eli Lilly of Baltimore County, Maryland
Public Domain
Textile and Fashion Arts

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