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Before winter fades . . . By the fire; Baltimore Album Quilts, by Dena S. Katzenberg. Baltimore, Md.: The Baltimore Museum of Art (c/o Museum Shop, Art Museum Drive, 21218). 136 pp. $20.85 postpaid (paperback).

The Baltimore Album Quilts, made from 1846-1852, are brilliant examples of a one-time artistic phenomenon.

Documenting the history and workmanship of these rare pieces, the quilt exhibit catalog, by consultant curator of textiles Dena S. Katzenberg, is rich in primary source material and color illustrations.

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The Baltimore quilts were the textile equivalent of the friendship autograph albums popular in the mid-19th century. The colorful quilts were often made to honor a favorite minister or teacher, or to celebrate a special occasion, such as a wedding.

As Baltimore was the largest seaport at the time, the quilters had access to a vast variety of imported fabrics, which they appliqued and pieced to create special effects of contour, texture, and shading.

The quilters translated china patterns, city landmarks, flowers, fruit, and even new modes of transportation into designs for their quilts. The most sophisticated examples were made under the direction of a gifted designer, Achsah Goodwin Wilkins (1775-1854).

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