Weavers of Bergen County
Written and researched by Kevin Wright
Coverlets stored in Kas

On the eve of the Civil War, America remained a community of independent farmers much as it had been in the days of the Revolution. Before the mechanization of agriculture, many hands made for light work and so large families were the rule. Living quarters were cramped. Servant laborers frequently boarded in the farmhouse and the manufacture of basic necessities, largely a domestic industry, further consumed vital space. The household huddled closely together in winter to benefit from the woefully inefficient fireplace.

Given the conflicting demands upon space, sleeping arrangements made the best of a difficult situation. In the most primitive circumstances, the family snuggled together for warmth. A new-born dozed between his parents. An infant slept in his rocking cradle, commonly hooded for protection against drafts. Children were bunched together in a trundle bed, which was stowed away when not in use. Adolescents were bundled off to the loft to sleep between feather ticks supported on a low frame. The master bed was placed near a hearth, and even in a prosperous farmhouse, the best parlor often doubled as the master bedroom.

Whenever affordable, the bedstead was designed to shut out drafts and to conserve body heat Curtains closeted the sleeper in a high-post bed and canopy. Bed rugs and spreads were piled on for added warmth. The embellishment of bed drapes and coverlets befitted one's station in life and much attention was lavished upon them. Those unable to afford fme imported fabrics would create suitable adornment through their own needles and looms. After all, the master bed, so practically adorned in fabric, was counted among a family's most prized possessions. Above all else, it was considered as "the family Teraphim, secretly worshipped, and only exhibited on very rare occasions." 1

Ancient bed curtains have rarely survived. They declined in popularity during the 1830's as improvements in domestic heating rendered them obsolete. Therefore, few heirlooms better express the close interweave of folk decoration and practical utility than the quilt and woven coverlet These bright counterpanes not only insulated against the cold in poorly heated chambers, but added an eye-catching topping to the bed during day.

Locally, the nocturnal habitat of our ancestors is glimpsed through inventories of their personal effects. An estimate prepared in 1782 of the damages sustained by Hendrick Kuyper of Hackensack during the Revolution, lists "one Callego (calico) Coverlid quilted," "two Sets of Curt ens almost new," "one blanket," and "one Callego Bed Spred."2 An inventory, taken in 1809, of the goods and credits of Abraham Ely ofN ew Bridge mentions" one spread & A suiet (suite) of Curtains & Bedsted" and "two cover Lid." 3

The term coverlet was used in a generic sense to describe any type of bedcover. Today, its use is generally restricted to the description of patterned spreads woven on a loom. Earlier generations included these woven counterpanes under the broad heading of blankets.

During the first century of settlement, decorative weaving was largely the product of home industry. Farm families, schooled by necessity, were exceptionally versatile by modern standards. The aforementioned inventory of Hendrick Kuyper includes "one Lome (loom) as good as new."

Catherine Jane Brinkerhoff, who was born in 1831 at the Ackerman-Brinkerhoff homestead on Essex Street in Hackensack, remembered as a child how the big wool wheels and looms for weaving blankets were stored in the large open attic of the house. 4 Since flax and wool were produced and processed by the Jersey Dutch, many a farmhouse supplied its own needs for woven cloth. In fact, on the eve of the Revolution, New Jersey was foremost among the colonies in sheep raising, with 144,000 head. 5 Local use of cotton was not prevalent until 1794 when mills in Paterson began producing an abundant, low-cost supply of coarse cotton yarns. 6

One ancient coverlet in the collection of the Bergen County Historical Society shows the artistry achieved by domestic weavers on narrow four-harness looms. It is a full spread made up of two strips seamed up the center, each measuring 28-1/2 inches in width and 84-1/2 inches in length. Fine woolen yarns dyed in three shades ofindigo and one of natural white are arranged in horizontal bands of differing width. Strong vertical ribs of color are created as the weft undulates through the linen warp, successively passing a single warp thread and then a group of four threads. As two contrasting colors in the weft reverse themselves at these same intervals, none of the linen warp threads are exposed. Individual color bars are arranged vertically and horizontally so that they never touch another bar at the same color. The horizontal stripes of this counterpane bear a familial resemblance to the reeded borders used on Hackensack Valley furniture. Variations in the dye and the use of native materials indicate the workmanship of a gifted amateur and an early date of manufacture.

At least two blue and white blankets of Bergen County origin were produced on four harness looms using an overshot weave. Geometric figures in conventional repeats were created as skips or floats of weft material passed over a tabby foundation. Once mastered, this technique allowed greater variations in design. One such coverlet is made up of two strips seamed up the center; each strip measures 31-1/2 inches in width and 81-1/2 inches in length. It combines one of the wheel patterns with a diamond figure and is called a lover's knot. It has a 5 inch border on all four sides (Fig. 6). The other coverlet employs a simple patch pattern in which alternating filled and vacant squares create a variation of doors and windows. Both overshot coverlets are made of indigo wool and natural cotton and probably date to the turn of the nineteenth century. Although possibly the work of master tradesmen, coverlets produced by the four-harness overshot weave mark the culmination of the domestic tradition in decorative weaving.

Fig. 6. Coverlet, Bergen County, c. turn of the 19 C. Wool and cotton indigo and natural color. The weaver has created a wheel design with his four-harness loom. Made in two strips, seamed up the center, 81 W' x 63" Bergen County Historical Society (45.19).
Double woven blankets employing geometric devices came into fashion as early as 1725 and remained popular for a century. By this method, the weaver produced a front and back piece simultaneously which interlaced at the outlines of the design. Thus, the pattern is reversed in color on opposite faces of the blanket. Continuing a strong local preference, indigo wool and white cotton were used exclusively in their manufacture. The only acceptable variation was the substitution of contrasting shades of indigo blue. The manufacture of double woven coverlets involved greater technological sophistication. A loom of at least eight harnesses was required. Two warp beams were needed for the double warp of indigo wool and natural cotton. 7 These heavy blankets are, therefore, the product of specialized tradesmen who were willing to make the necessary capital investment in equipment.

Unfortunately, these heirlooms were wrought anonymously. The identities of professional weavers working in Bergen County at an early date have rarely come to light. A receipt from 1767 records that John Masseles, a weaver of Hackensack, paid Jacobus Demarest of New Bridge for weaving linen and a Miss Leacraft for weaving woolen cloth. 8 Another early weaver named John Naugle paid Peter J. Demarest for weaving linen in 1807. 9

These transactions suggest that a commercial demand for cloth of everyday wear existed at an early date. Numerous surviving examples of elaborate double weaving indicate a market for more decorative wares. The demand for utilitarian cloth was met by a cottage industry organized around a master weaver. He apparently subcontracted work to local farmers and spinsters, who supplemented the family income by manufacturing the staples of the trade. The professional weaver executed custom orders requiring advanced skills and a more elaborate technology.

The flawless intricacy of the double weave in geometric repeats attests to the great mental and manual dexterity of the folk artisans who produced it. As with overshot weaving, their patterns were painstakingly plotted in drafts, which guided the craftsman as he executed the work entirely by hand.

Seven double-woven coverlets of Bergen County origin were examined for the purposes of this study. All except one use figures of the rose type in four block patterns or patterns of the Lisbon star type on five or more blocks. Five of these coverlets survive in the possession of the Bergen County Historical Society.

Two identical coverlets make use of a figure closely related to the Lisbon star. A decorative figure used as the hub of the wheel in this design is an interesting variation of the traditional snowball. It is a square inset by nine small crosses, which has four stepped-gables protruding from each of its four faces. Perhaps a skyline broken by the silhouette of Dutch town houses inspired its designer.

Another double-woven coverlet, made up of two loom widths and measuring overall 57 inches by 70 inches, is a variation of a simple rose pattern popularly call the whig rose. It has a six inch border and a fringed baseline.

A most distinctive example of the double weave, now in the possession of the Bergen County Historical Society, uses the Lisbon star in the central panel, but is bordered on three sides by a pine tree border.

A coverlet from the Demarest family woven in contrasting shades of indigo is a beautiful curiosity. It is made of two strips, each measuring 33-1/2 inches in width and 84 inches in length. Blocks framing a star within a checkerboard and a figure of the rose type are separated by open blocks.

The description of such patterns as stars, roses, chariot wheels and church windows is purely imaginative: these designs are figurative and not literal depictions of the named objects.

During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, an important technological breakthrough revolutionized design in local coverlets. Joseph-Marie Jacquard, a mechanic in the silk weaving district of Lyons, France, successfully automated the ancient draw loom process of weaving patterned textiles. His mechanism was introduced to the United States in 1826. Through Jacquard's inventiveness, a design could be reduced to perforations on a sequence of cards. With each warp thread mechanically controlled, the punched cards continually instructed the loom as it opened a shed for the weft to pass. The predetermined pattern was thus mechanically translated into cloth. This was the first programmable machine and a direct ancestor of the modem computer. 10

At the time of this writing, over fifty coverlets in which the double weave was controlled by a Jacquard mechanism have been attributed to five weavers who worked in Bergen County. There is a rumor of a sixth local weaver, but no piece has yet surfaced which may be positively identified as his work.

David D. Haring, from 328 Tappan Road, in what is now Norwood, is the best documented of Bergen County's weavers. At least nine coverlets were signed by him between 1833 and 1834. Two coverlets made in 1835 for Caroline Hopper and Eleanor Van Dien were apparently initialed by him. Three other coverlets have been identified as his work on the basis of his pictorial trademark: a framed rose with four leaves growing from its branches. Another five coverlets have been attributed to him with varying degrees of success. It is claimed that the work of David D. Haring may be identified by the fact that he alone among local weavers used capital letters exclusively when inscribing a client's name in a cartouche or comer block. This has been proven false, however. See N. Young coverlet, (Fig. 13).

Fig. 7. Blanket, present day Norwood, c. 1825. Natural wool woven in two strips and seamed up the center with a brown foven strip on two sides. Embroidered '(iith red, yellow, tan and brown at four corners, attributed to David D. Haring. The name Cherokee Indian Rose refers to the sunburst design in the four corners. There is also red featherstitching over the center seam and on the two salvage sides. Often overlooked in the current popularity of quilts and coverlets are the simple bed. coverings that served the American family in· the 19th century. Earlier blankets are usually two loom widths, seamed up the center. This version and the later seamless products of factory looms were embellished by embroidery, sometimes in a center medallion and sometimes in the four corners. Similar examples were published in the Papers and Proceedings of the Bergen County Historical Society 1915-1916 and by Georgiana Brown Harbeson in 1938 in American Needlework, citing an example in Harlow House in Plymouth. Double bed size, Blauvelt-Demarest Foundation.
David D. Haring was the third child and second son of David A. Haring by his second wife, Mariah Alyie. He was born February 23, 1800, at the Abraham A. Haring homestead in present day Rockleigh. He never knew his father who died within a year after his birth. His mother married Jacob Echerson, January 2, 1803. His stet>-father became his legal guardian, January 28, 1803.

Shortly after his mother's remarriage, the family moved from his grandfather's house on Piermont Road to Tappan. Nothing further of his life is known until his marriage to Leah Vervalen, September 15, 1821, at Tappan. She was the only child of Hendrick and Cornelia Vervalen, who were neighbors of the Echersons and Harings. David purchased forty acres from his new in-laws, the following spring. He and his family lived on the farm along Tappan Road in present day Norwood for the remainder of his life.

David D. Haring must have begun his career as an independent craftsman about the time of his marriage. He is described as a weaver of coverlets, table-covers, rugs with tufted surfaces and Indian Rose blankets.

The oldest woven pieces attributable to David Haring we have found are two Cherokee Indian Rose blankets (Fig. 7) which date to 1825. These curiosities were traditionally woven of the softest while wool for the dower chest of prospective brides. Each blanket was made of two loom widths whip-stitched together. A stylized rose was embroidered in brightly colored wools on each of the four corners. 11 This embroidered design is not a literal depiction of the Cherokee Rose (rosa laevigata), which is a smooth-stemmed white climbing rose of Chinese origin and popularly cultivated throughout the South. The rose blankets worked splendidly as display pieces, but the decoration was hardly practical as ordinary use would have easily damaged the embroidery.

David Haring probably produced the traditional geometrically-patterned coverlets in a double weave and surviving examples may have come from his hand. He seems to have experimented with the Jacquard mechanism as early as 1830. The earliest Jacquard coverlet attributed to him bears the initials ofaclient"M VH" (probably a Van Houten or Van Horn) and the date "Dec 21 1830." The design is somewhat monotonous in comparison with later examples as it relies upon the repetition of one floral medallion throughout the main pattern. Attribution is based upon the fact that the flower in the main pattern is very similar to the rose that became Haring's trademark. Unfortunately, the same floral figure with various different blossoms appears as a medallion motif on a coverlet woven in 1831 for Eliza Ann Demott which has been attributed to T eunis Cooper. It also appears in a medallion on a coverlet signed by "N. YOUN G, WEVER ( sic)" which is dated 1838. The reproduction of even identical figures is not a sure indication of the weaver's identity since perforated cards used in the process became commercially available soon after the Jacquard mechanism was introduced.

The use of lower case letters in the printed date (Dec 21/1830) on the "M VH" coverlet makes its attribution to David Haring problematic. The bold American eagles and running foxes which appear at the bottom border of this coverlet are unknown in Haring's canon of design even though four Haring roses make up the squares in the center. A rooster used in the signature block at the four comers ofthe coverlet, though similar to Haring's work, appears to be the trademark of a weaver whose identity is yet unknown. Two others, closely resembling the above mentioned" M VH" coverlet, use the same center groupings; eagle, running foxes etc. around the border, but the trademark is a rooster facing a hen in all comers. The first, privately owned, is inscribed "RAT/Feb11/1831" and the second, badly damaged, is in the collection of the Bergen County Historical Society. It is inscribed "N H B(?)/Jan 14/1831."

A double cloth-coverlet bearing a cartouche inscribed" W & VI DEG RAUl 1832" is the first we have found to carry the Haring Rose as a trademark. By this date, David Haring had perfected most of the characteristics of his style. The use of four different medallions in the main pattern is visually stimulating. One medallion is composed of eagles encircled by stars. Another makes use of a reworked Haring rose. Sprays of stylized flowers make up the two remaining medallions. These large central figures are interspersed with flying birds and small diamonds in a halo of stars. The Tree oj Life (see title page), an urn with flowers, and a church are alternately repeated as a border motif. These are underlined by a blossoming vine in neat swags. The weaver has varied his border along the foot of this blanket to accommodate his client's name. The lettered cartouche is flanked by a rooster. At the center of the bottom border, Haring repeated the eagle and star motiffrom the main pattern. His trademark, neatly framed, takes up all four corners. The baseline is fringed.

The "DEGRAU" coverlet is also interesting, because it is one of two coverlets made in the same year(1832) that introduced the full spelling of a client's name in place of the initials found on all earlier coverlets. The other coverlet was made for "Ann/P. Cole/1832". Its design is similar to the "DEGRAU" piece. Curiously, its trademark is ever so subtly different from Haring's. The branches of the framed rose reportedly bear only two leaves. At the time of this study, the only other coverlet found, marked with a similar rose, was done for "Maria Brinkerhoff/1843" (Fig. 8). As with the three-leaved Christie Rose, this subtle variation probably indicates the handiwork of another weaver.

Jacquard coverlets woven prior to 1832 should, perhaps, be regarded as experiments in a new medium. A coverlet inscribed "HTH/ March 8/ 1832" shows the weaver's struggle to achieve harmony among the diverse elements in his design. In this piece, the weaver avoids the stifling repetition of one figure in the main pattern by using four different medallions. Three ofthese are the usual stylized bouquets, but the fourth is a shimmering sun orbited by eight-pointed stars. His borders, however, are much too busy. Here the parade of roosters, doves, urns, churches, trees, eagles, partridge and basket of flowers are a distraction. These are underlined and unduly emphasized by a chain of curiously speckled and striped eggs along the edge. The rooster perched on an oval, so often seen on local coverlets was extracted from this border motif. The egg upon which he stands is a link in the border chain (see Brinkerhoff coverlet Fig. 8).

Once Haring and his contemporaries mastered the elements of good design, they rearranged and interpreted their standard motifs with speed and confidence. If surviving coverlets are a fair indication peak years for the trade were 1833 and 1834. David Haring manufactured at least three identical coverlets in 1833: the first for Abraham and Sally Hopper (1833), the second for Rachel Felter (July 4, 1833) and the third for Leah Naugle (December 14, 1833). Another coverlet made for Margaret Ann Cole has the same date of December 14,1833, as that made for Rachel Felter, indicating that the inscribed dates probably have a significance other than the date of manufacture.

A rare undersized (53" x 71") coverlet signed by David D. Haring is unusual because it is inscribed with a man's name in the cartouche: "JOHN C./DEMAREST/ApriI 3, 1834" (Fig. 9).

If all the Jacquard coverlets presently attributed to David D. Haring were accepted as authentic, his work would span seven years. Pieces bearing either his name, his initials or his trademark cover only the years 1832 to 1835. The sudden decline of his trade is difficult to explain. He may have suffered irreversible losses in the business panic of 1837. After 1838, as popular taste switched to more naturalistic ornament on coverlets of a single width, he was, perhaps unwilling or unable to make a substantial capital investment in a wider loom and new patterns.

In any event, Haring long outlived his career as a Jacquard weaver. He died on February 28,1889, and was (buried in a cemetery in Tappan, N.Y. He left the considerable sum of $38,277.60 to be divided between his two daughters.

Fig. 8. Coverlet, present day Norwood, 1843. Inscribed "Maria Brinkerhoff / 1843." Indigo and natural color, rooster, flower, birds, trees, eagle with heart motifs, 72" x 110". Bergen County Historical Society (68.8).

At least four Jacquard coverlets were signed by "I. Christie, Weaver". They were made for Mary Bogert (1834), Sarah Demarest (1834)(Fig. 10), Rachel Demarest (1834) and Maria Bogert (1835). The cartouche of each blanket identifies it as "The Property of ... " its owner. Two of these coverlets are woven using dark and medium shades of indigo. The third conforms to the conventional pattern of indigo wool and natural cotton.

Nothing further is known of I. Christie except that his coverlet designs virtually duplicate those of David Haring. There may be some significance in the fact that the four signed blankets were made for individuals with only two family names. The Christie trademark is aframed rose almost identical to Haring's, yet bearing only three leaves on its branches. Perhaps these less developed roses were a gesture of respect to an elder or more accomplished craftsman (Fig. 11). There is strong visual evidence to suggest some professional association between the two weavers. Since the Christie coverlets date to the peak years of the trade, it is conceivable that David Haring may have trained and employed help to meet the demand.

I. Christie may elude scholars because of his old-fashioned preference for the letter" I" in place of the letter "J." As late as 1827, a sampler made in Bergen County did not include "J" in its alphabet. Anyone of several Jacob, John or James Christies may yet prove to be the elusive weaver. We also cannot discount the possibility that this craftsman was not a man at all, but an Irene or an Isabella. If so, she would be one of very few women to have worked in the Jacquard tradition.

A single Jacquard coverlet inscribed "EADM/Nov 28/1831" is attributed to Teunis Cooper of the English Neighborhood. 11 A T eunis Cooper married Lydia Lydecker, February 8, 1812, at the English Neighborhood True Reformed Church (now Ridgefield). 12

The coverlet is said to have been made for an Eliza Ann De Mott. The De Motts were early settlers at Walton in the English Neighborhood (near modem Leonia). In the third generation, a John De Mott married Eliza Ann Vanderbeck on an unknown. date and settled in this area. 13 This combination offacts makes attribution of the coverlet to Cooper seem plausible.

The Cooper coverlet bears a strong resemblance to the aforementioned coverlet marked "HTH/ March 8/1832", except that the earlier piece suggests greater artistic control over its elements. The affinity is emphasized by the duplication ofthe lower border and the use oflower case letters in the date. Central medallions using the eagle and a reworked Haring Rose, as well as the Tree of Life in its side borders, indicate a common source for local motifs. The Cooper blanket bears a striking likeness to one produced by David Haring for Jan Van Wagoner in 1833.

The Papers and Proceedings of the Bergen County Historical Society for 1915-16 lists James A. Haring of Harrington Township, (the area called the Back Neighborhood, Old Tappan,) as a weaver of coverlets about 1825.1 It claimed that many of his pieces were in a fine state of preservation in 1916, but no work can be identified as his todat The photograph of a beautiful white tufted counterpane (Fig. 12) is captioned simply "Haring, Weaver 1800.,,1 No evidence for its authorship and age is given. Such woven tufted work is rare. White cotton was used both for the warp and the weft. A heavier thread ofloosely twisted material, such as candle-wicking, was used to create the pattern.

Fig. 9. Coverlet, present day Norwood, 1834. Inscribed "JOHN C./ DEMAREST / Apri/3, 1834" and "David 0./ Haring" in parenthesis. The word "Tappan" is also woven in along the side. Indigo and natural, cotton and wool, double jacquard cloth, pieced in center. Design of flowers, birds, roosters, trees, snowflakes, and Haring trademark, a four leaf rose in all corners. Note small size, 53" x 71". Bergen County Historical Society (45.15).

James A. Haring - Jacobus Abrahamse Haring born January 13, 1799, is probably the son of Abraham D. Haring and Elizabeth Peek. He married Maria Nagel, born February 26, 1801, at Tappan. She was the daughter of John and Cornelia Auryansen Nagel of Closter. The 1840 census lists James A. Haring as being engaged in "Trade and Manufacture." It is not known, at this time, whether he wove the white tufted counterpane. He was not a near relative of David D. Haring, who worked in the same neighborhood, around the same time.

Whether or not Nathaniel Young should be included in the list of Bergen County weavers is still a matter of debate. He does not appear in the abstracts of the New Jersey Census for 1830 or 1840. At least one coverlet signed by him was made for a client in New Hackensack, Dutchess County, New York. However, some sources place him in Bergen and Hudson Counties during the early l840's. 18

The earliest known coverlet signed by Young was made for "RACHEL/V ANDUYNE/SEP 14, 1834." It is indistinguishable from the work of David Haring, not only in the style and arrangement of the motifs, but also in its use of the so-called Haring Rose with four leaves as a corner trademark. In fact, the VanDuyne coverlet is nearly identical in every particular to one woven by David Haring for Margaret Ann Cole on December 14, 1833. The rose trademark on the VanDuyne coverlet is edged with the signature of "(N. Young)" along the bottom border and with the place of manufacture, "Pine Brook", along the side border. Enclosing the signature within parentheses and identifying the place of manufacture on a line perpendicular to the signature are techniques used by David Haring on coverlets woven for Rachel Felter (July 4, 1833), Leah Naugle (December 14, 1833), Sally and Abraham Hopper (1833), and John C. Demarest (April 3, 1834). The Pine Brook identified as the place of manufacture is probably the Morris County village of that name, located in Pequannock Township near the Passaic River. A Van Duyne family settled in this vicinity prior to 1741. Interestingly, a Rachel Van Dien of Morris County married Simon Speer of Bergen County on December 23, 1834.

Although the VanDuyne coverlet is presently the exception to the general rule, it indicates the risk of attributing the manufacture of a coverlet to a specific weaver solely on the basis of a trademark. It also strongly suggests a single source for local motifs.

A white cotton and indigo wool coverlet signed "N.Young, Wever (sic)" and dated" 1838" is in the possession of the Bergen County Historical Society (Fig. 13). Since it is seamless, it was obviously designed and woven as a single unit on a broad loom. Eighteen medallions of four different types are interspersed with twelve smaller medallions in the main pattern. These are bordered by grapes, daisies and morning glories. Several of the motifs closely resemble the work of Christie and Haring. The stem and foliage of a flower used in one ofthe large medallions is identical to the Haring Rose. Only in the border design does Young assert his individuality.

Any suggestion that Young was an itinerant weaver should be regarded with skepticism. His broad loom and mechanical apparatus could not have easily been packed up and taken on the road. His seamless coverlets required a considerable investment in equipment and his wares would represent the state of the art at the time they were made. He may have sought and attracted a more widely dispersed clientele, thus explaining the comparatively broad distribution of his work.

Because of his known use of a wide loom, many seamless coverlets made in and about 1840 have been attributed to Nathaniel Young. Many of these express the taste for more naturalistic ornament. Unfortunately, these coverlets bear only the clients's name.

Fig. 10. Coverlet, present day Norwood, 1834: Inscribed "The Property of / Sarah Demarest / 1834" and "I. Christie Weaver." Indigo and light blue, cotton and wool, design of eagles, stars, trees, birds, animals, urns and rooster. 69* x 89". Bergen County Historical Society (38.4).
Fig. 11. (upper) The four leaf trademark found on David D. Haring's coverlet for John C. Demarest (Fig. 9).
Fig. 11. (center) The three leaf trademark found on the I. Christie coverlet for Rachel Demarest.
Fig. 11. (lower) The two leaftrademark found on an unsigned coverlet for Maria Brinkerhoff (Fig. 8).
A coverlet woven for "Mary Ann / Demarest 1835" is of considerable interest in the evolution of Jacquard design as it heralds the trend towards elaborate botanical motifs. Exaggerated foliage, finely detailed, is the distinguishing characteristic ofthis piece. Its innovative workmanship may mark a local weaver's transition to the use of a broad loom. The coverlet is woven in contrasting shades of blue and appears to be seamless.

An indigo wool and natural cotton coverlet inscribed "ANN / ZEBRISKIE / 1838" shows further experimentation with design. Its motifs are highly individualistic, such as the swastika with thick lobed arms. This whirling device is a good luck sign of prehistory origin, and in this instance, was probably borrowed from an American Indian source. A large leaved grape is used both to edge the central design and, on a smaller scale, to edge the entire blanket. The thin undulating vine and curled tendrils are an ambitious use of a curved figure.

A coverlet woven for "JASPAR/DEMAREST/1841" survives in the collection of the Blauvelt-Demarest Foundation (Fig. 14). It is an exquisite example of how weavers eventually realized the full artistic potential of mechanical weaving. The fluent use of curves is displayed in scrolled foliage and blossoms which spill from cornucopia in the border design. Greater command of detail is everywhere evident, expecially in the finely lobed and veined leaves and in the sparkle of tiny berries and blooms. Here, the Victorian decorator celebrates the fecundity of nature without becoming heavy-handed.

A coverlet inscribed "Maria/Brinkerhoff/1843" is indistinguishable from coverlets woven a decade earlier by Haring and Christie (Fig. 8). It was presented to her as a wedding gift. It bears a framed rose with two leaves growing from its branches as a trademark. In 1843, another coverlet was woven for" ANN ACKERMAN" which records the changing fashion. The images remain stylized; in fact, the balsam medallion is repeated from earlier coverlets, but the composition is entirel~ limited to floral display, focusing on a large central bouquet It was woven as a single unit measuring 73 inches by 87 inches. Some collectors feel that these coverlets are too sophisticated to be considered folk art and prefer the early examples.

The culmination of the Jacquard tradition was reached in a coverlet manufactured for "Rachel Demarest" (Fig. 15). It is undated, but may have been made for the Rachel Demarest, who married Henry De Mott of Teaneck in 1850 and settled in Schraalenburgh(in the area now encompassed by Dumont). It was probably manufactured about the time of her marriage. This piece is virtually a botanical essay. It is a single unit with remarkable literal depictions of floral subjects (except that the designer could not resist overdressing his blooms in fanciful foliage). The composition is based on a central bouquet. The yawning lilies display elaborate stamens. Holly and berries are underlined by a Greek fretwork along the edges. A coverlet identical in design and dimension to Rachel Demarest's is inscribed "Jane C./Bartholf", and is in the possession of the Bergen County Historical Society.

The work of David Haring, I. Christie, Teunis Cooper and Nathaniel Young has much in common. Indigo wool and natural cotton were used as both the warp and weft in all local coverlets in which the weave was controlled by the Jacquard mechanism. The only accepted variation was the substitution of a medium indigo for the white to create subtly contrasting shades of blue. Prior to Young's use of a broad loom, these blankets were formed of two loom widths joined together. Each strip is approximately 36 inches wide.

The same pictorial figures are common to all local weavers, though each craftsman freely interpreted each motif to suit his individual sense of composition. The inspiration for these stylized and often fanciful images seems to have been quite eclectic. Some images evoked the flora and fauna of ancient fables, while others pursued the contemporary taste for ornament in imitation of classical antiquity. Designs may have been copied from the printed cottons ofIndia and from the carpets of the Near East, but the source of inspiration was often as near as the family garden.

Fig. 12. Coverlet, Bergen County, c. 1800. White on white, tufted counterpane, pictured in the Papers and Proceedings of the Bergen County Historical Society 1915-1916 is labeled a "Haring", but cannot be located for the exhibit.
The Tree of Life is a recurring border motif in Jacquard coverlets oflocal manufacture (see title page). This tree is the "peridexion" of the ancient Bestiary.19 Doves were attracted to its limbs by the sweetness of its flowers. A dragon watched them intently, awaiting the opportunity for a meal. As the dragon feared the shadow of the Tree, he moved from one side to the other. Since this motion could not be captured in a still life representation, most ancient forms depict the birds perched in the tree above two dragons. Gradually the dragons were supplanted by more familiar predators. The coverlet weavers used a fox/weasel and wolf. These predators are thought to represent the devil who flees from the shadow of the Tree of Life, and the birds are souls who fmd nourishment in the fruit of truth.

The rose is prominently featured in coverlet design as it is the queen of flowers. Its distilled water was thought to strengthen the heart and its sweet fragrance was commonly believed to induce sleep and pleasant dreams. 20 This made it especially appropriate to the design of a bedspread.

The rooster is also a familiar figure in the folk art of Bergen County. As the herald of a new day, he is a symbol of spiritual awakening and rebirth. He has been a fixture in Christian art since Peter's denial of Christ when the cock crowed thrice.

Certain principles of composition were dictated by long usage, sometimes satisfying superstitious instincts and magical themes. Since time immemorial, bedcovers have used a border as a symbolic barrier against the powers of darkness. Moreover, the sheer exuberance of folk decoration is derived from the urge to leave no unprotected space for harmful spirits to rest By the nineteenth century, these concerns were no longer conscious ones, but were deeply embedded in the conventions of good design.

Through the language of their motifs and the technology of their manufacture, the Jacquard coverlets of Bergen County open a window on the past. They record the initiation of an agrarian community into the machine age; but typifying the rapid evolution of American life-styles, this art form flowered early and faded quickly.

Fig. 13. Coverlet, present Norwood, 1838. Inscribed "N. YOUNG WEVER (sic)/ 1838." Indigo and natural colored wood and cotton. Design of birds, flowers, snowflakes, and grapes, 75" x 98". Bergen County Historical Society (79.1).
Fig. 14. Coverlet, Bergen County, 1841. Inscribed "JASPER / DEMAREST /1841;" Indigo and natural colored wool and cotton. Design of flowers, vases, cornucopia. Full size, unsigned. Blauvelt-Demarest Foundation.
Fig. 15.Coverlet, Bergen County, c. second quarter of the 1800's. Inscribed "Rachel/Demarest" under basket at one end, unsigned. Another identical coverlet inscribed "Jane C. / Barthoff" is also in the B.C.H.S. collection, 71" x 86*." Bergen County Historical Society (83.22).

The Tree of Life: Selections from Bergen County Folk Art by Kevin W. Wright

Betty Schmelz, Charles B. Szeglin and Irene Fitzgerald were also involved in the project.


Published by the Bergen County Historical Society
Copyright 1983