Branches and Vines (After Ernastine Zaumsil’s quilt, 1875)

Ernestine Zaumseil

By Monica Fuglei

Branches and Vines (After Ernastine Zaumsil’s quilt, 1875)

The Oct. 27, 2018, massacre of 11 Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life building — in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and just under two miles from the Pitt campus — not only had an enormous impact on the City of Pittsburgh and its Jewish community, but reignited a debate on the silent rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.
                                                                         -The Pitt News

Ernastine, when you picked each leaf 
by hand, did you know the stitches
in this palampore would survive? 

Can you see how your appliques of (is that calico?) 
stand proud among the vines? 

Imagine this: pinned taut, each stitch tacks
you to a future: your Tree of Life displayed
in the Museum of Modern Art 143 years 
and just 370 miles from the massacre. 

Those Tree of Life deaths, 
how when we see these vines, these branches, 
we see their lives, their deaths, 
and is that, then, Richard in the green leaves? 

Those brown berries kissed with white 
are they Joyce or Rose? Is that yellow deer 
a brother Cecil or David? 

The bright pop of red berries could be Bernice and Sylvan, entwined - 
and yes, those yellow globes were, of course, Jerry. 

Those red flowers opening, reaching were they Irving, Melvin, Daniel
sprinkled through the leaves? Could you see then, so many years before
how hate might grow – that snake weaving through the garden, ripping vines and flowers, 
uprooting the tree, the life, this bed, this America?

Branches and Vines Quilt, circa 1875

Ernestine Eberhardt Zaumseil American

Working in the later years of the nineteenth century, Ernestine Zaumseil created this extraordinary quilt employing the Tree of Life pattern, a design that has been popular for use on bedcovers since the seventeenth century. The first Tree of Life bedcovers, called “palampores”, were of Indian origin and featured a stylized tree bearing fantastical fruits and flowers. An Indian palampore makes up the central panel of quilt 2014.263 in the American Wing’s collection. In Zaumseil’s quilt, the trees and branches are much more realistic, in part because she seems to have traced leaves from actual trees and vines to serve as patterns for her appliquéd designs.