Margaret Lea Houston’s Summer Spread

Summer spread, by Margaret Lea Houston, ca. mid-19th century [Cotton textile, 98 x 80 1/4. 1983.125.0007, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, TSLAC].

Margaret Lea Houston, the wife of famed Texas politician and war hero Sam Houston, is thought to have sewn this lightweight “summer spread” decorated with imagery from the   Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Similar to a quilt but without the batting, the spread consists of 45 hexagonal blocks and measures 80 1/4 x 98 inches long. Art historian Lynne Adele analyzed the imagery and determined that, since some of the symbols were removed from the Fraternal Order in 1880, the spread was made before that year.

Imagery included on the spread are a lamb, symbolizing innocence; three links of chain, indicating friendship, love, and truth; and the sun, representing God and the soul. The heart on the palm of the hand symbolizes sincerity and the cornucopia, abundance.

Close-up of  imagery used on the summer spread. Here we see the lamb, the chain links of truth, love, and friendship, and a bow and quiver. Edges of the hexagonal blocks are visible.

The interest in the Odd Fellows symbolism is unclear, as Sam Houston was a member of another fraternal organization, the Freemasons. The provenance of the spread has been attributed to Margaret through family history and now belongs to TSLAC’s Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX. Visitors to the Center may view the spread on display as part of a new museum exhibit through December 2018.

For more information on fraternal symbols in art, see the book As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society 1850/1930 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015) by Lynn Adele.

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