America’s Oldest Furrier
Est. 1889
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“The Quilt That Leaves No Doubt”

What was your inspiration for the idea to create the piece?

The quilt was heavily influenced by a high school trip to Gee’s Bend Alabama in 2007. If you’re not familiar with the history of Gee’s Bend and the quilters, do yourself a favor, do a google search. The quilters brought us into the room that housed their incredible collection. There were over 30 quilts rolled up and tucked away in cubbies. They encouraged us to really enjoy each one, unroll the folded quilts, and lay down on them. The quilts were striking- each unique from the next and handmade from various textiles. My favorite was a quilt constructed entirely of old jeans, pockets and all. Several months later, I was lucky enough to meet the women again. Only this time in Baltimore, at the Walters Art Gallery, the same quilts on display but safeguarded behind inch thick glass. Fast forward to 2018, I realized I could reproduce the Mano Swartz logo using the light and dark labels. I wanted the end result to be something tangible, meaningful and one of a kind. Naturally this evolved into a quilt, undoubtedly due to my exposure to the quilters of Gee’s Bend.

How long did you collect labels?

The labels were collected over the span of 3-4 years. Everyone in the shop contributed and I could not have done this without them. We recycle anything we can and don’t like throwing things out so collecting the labels seemed normal.

As a work of art, what title would you give this piece?

“The Quilt That Leaves No Doubt” The title is a play on words from an old Mano Swartz label tagline that reads, “The Label That Leaves No Doubt.” If you look hard it won’t take you long to find the Mano Swartz label carrying this motto. Along the way you’ll also see how these business slogans changed over time.

What is exciting about the piece to you?

The amount of history it encompasses. These labels are from designers, boutiques, family businesses, and vendors all over the world. Some labels are 80 years or older. A family business might have 5 different labels, one for each generation. I value and recognize each change, the labels are a visual representation of businesses that adapted and transformed to stay relevant. Imagine what it takes for an enterprise like Mano Swartz to reinvent and tailor themselves for over 125 years. A business that survived the great depression, world wars, and has seen over 20 presidents. The Swartz Family has persevered and grown an institution that continues to serve Baltimore and the surrounding communities.

And lastly, if this piece could talk, what would it say?

Each label has at least one great story and I’d bet some have quite a few. Joined together, this piece has thousands of tales dating back through the 20th century. If this piece could talk, I think it would share the conversations, gossip and negotiations of everyone involved. Stories from the designers who created them, the craftsmen and women that assembled them, the companies that sold them and the customers that loved them. Collectively, these labels characterize some history of the fur industry in America. An industry that played a fundamental role in the development of the United States for more than 300 years.

Quilt Maker Julien Polillo
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Julien is absolutely right! These are more than just labels – these are a great part of the history of our fur industry. Just look at the names! What memories they bring to mind. I actually made many of these labels – Mano Swartz, Kent Fisher, Tarlow, Schultz, Pologeorgis, Stephen Furs, etc, etc. Currently, I am even re-doing one of the labels shown. And the names which are gone – some retail powerhouses such as Glantz, White House, DeCor, Weiss, Jones, … I could go on and on. Many of these labels have memories and stories behind them, and great… Read more »

3 years ago

Please post a memory of any of these businesses or people who you know, I want to try to keep the fur trade history alive, thanks!!