"It hung for 50 years in a 14th century monastery in Siena, Villa LaFontanella, which he had bought," says Mrs. Michel, Catherine Garnhart's great-great-great-granddaughter. "Then it was taken to Montreal by his daughter, Anne Lester Node. My mother got it from her. It was Anne Node's wish that everything from Frederick come back to Frederick."
The documentation project turned up another Garnhart quilt as well. Some of the choicest quilts uncovered by the project were displayed last summer at a show at the Timonium fairgrounds. At the show, Ms. Tuckhorn gave a slide presentation which included four of Catherine Garnhart's quilts.
"A lady came up to me afterwards who said, 'My brother has a quilt just like that eagle quilt! You have to call him!'" she remembers.
She called, then visited, the quilt's owner, Willard Markey, in Pennsylvania, and discovered the biggest prize yet: a quilt in near-perfect condition, signed "Anna Catherine Garnhart, 1849." It is the only signed and dated quilt, and is in such superb shape that the chintzes still have their original shiny glaze.
"This was the only one that was handed down through the male line," Ms. Tuckhorn says. "It was made for a man, and it was given from son to son."
It became clear that Mrs. Garnhart would have to have her own show.
The quilts themselves are worthy of a showcase, because of their rarity as well as their age and beauty. In her research of quilts of the period, Ms. Tuckhorn has discovered only three other reverse applique quilts. Mrs. Garnhart's quilts also were also made from some of the choicest fabrics available, chintzes imported from England and France and purchased in Baltimore. Letters from early owners of the quilts indicate that Mrs. Garnhart paid $1 a yard for her fabrics -- an ample day's wage at the time.
In addition, other material contributed by the families form a revealing document of American life. Here is the trunk that family patriarch Philip Jacob Grundler, Catherine Garnhart's grandfather, brought from Germany to Frederick. Here is a hand-painted New Year's greeting card received by her father when he was a Revolutionary War soldier. Here is the wide-mouth green bottle in which Mrs. Garnhart stored brandy-soaked lily leaves, her home remedy for burns. Family letters are included, too, including one from a granddaughter to her sister, written in a mock-countrified dialect ("What a delight-fully gresy time hog kilin is") that has made family members chuckle for 135 years.
Interestingly enough, though, most branches of this particular family tree did not know each other until they were brought together for a reunion reception at the DAR museum earlier this month.
Although it is romantic to think of generation after generation being born and expiring beneath these quilts, this was often not the case; the condition of many of the heirlooms indicates that Mrs. Garnhart's heirs have watched over her work with the devotion of professional museum curators.
"They have always been regarded as works of art, as well as having sentimental value, and admired and preserved with great care and love," Mrs. Michel says.
For one of the families, though, the legacy of Mrs. Garnhart and her heirs was the stuff of everyday life. In the home of Eleanor Maynard, the journals and antique newspapers were kept at hand, where visitors and family members could read and enjoy them. The eagle pitcher was kept in a hutch, where the children could see (if not touch) it. The large Garnhart quilt spent many years on her parents' bed, and the crib quilt will go back on her daughter Ellie's bedroom wall when the exhibit is over. Before Mrs. Maynard died in April, she encouraged her seven children to rally around with their treasures, which had been distributed to them according to their interests. The exhibit is dedicated to her memory.
"The neat thing was that they really shared our family history with us, and made us proud of our names," says her daughter Ellie Maynard Barbour, who lent her Garnhart crib quilt to the exhibition.
Mrs. Barbour's sister Suzy Brett, a North Carolina journalist who researched the family's history when she lived in Frederick, admits to being "flabbergasted" when she learned how much these familiar things were worth on the antique things were worth on the antique market. But, she says, "We've always had family heirlooms in our homes. I personally wouldn't think about selling them. They're part of our heritage. That's what's important, not the price."
"I think this is pretty wonderful that this is a woman's achievement that is being celebrated," Theresa Michel states. "She must have been very respected by her family and friends because of all the memories that have come down, which make her out to be a very substantial person, in character, money, abilities and talent. I'm very proud of her.