Wild and Untamed
Dunton’s Discovery of the Baltimore Album Quilts
Follow Dr. William Rush Dunton Jr. on his journey to understand the Baltimore album quilt tradition and learn how quilts served as the building blocks for his groundbreaking work in occupational therapy. Explore our internationally famous quilt collection, including never-before-seen pieces, and Dr. Dunton’s personal works to unravel a narrative that connects Dunton’s views on quilts, gender, and mental health in the 1940s.
Meet Dr. Dunton
Dr. William Rush Dunton Jr. is known as the father of occupational therapy. He was also among the first inductees in the Quilters Hall of Fame in 1979. His dedication to helping those with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues was matched, if not surpassed, by his passion for textile crafts, and especially for the Baltimore album quilt style of the mid-19th century.
In fact, while occupational therapists today may be familiar with Dunton’s medical journals, he produced another very valuable work. Old Quilts was self-published by Dunton in 1946–1947, and in it he details many Baltimore album quilts and their associated social histories. This rare book remains the oldest history of this niche quilt style popular from 1840 to 1855.
Dunton’s Occupational Therapy
So what do Baltimore album quilts have to do with occupational therapy? And what is an “occupation” in relation to therapy? In general terms, an occupation can be any everyday task. For Dunton, occupations were particularly therapeutic because they required some level of concentration that distracted a patient’s attention from his or her mental distress.
During his time at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, Dunton implemented a large variety of occupations, such as gardening, woodworking, weaving, and quilting. He observed that the repetitive nature of quilting, the establishment of community as women came together to complete one quilt, and the encouragement of self-expression and creativity all provided unparalleled benefits.
Baltimore Album Quilts
This two-year exhibition will showcase our internationally famous collection of Baltimore album quilts. Learn how the style grew into a craze in Maryland, see examples that were featured in Dunton’s 1947 book, and see never-before-seen album quilts. Quilts will be rotated halfway through the life of the exhibition, bringing even more examples for visitors to enjoy and making this exhibition worth seeing more than once.
Thank you to our Wild and Untamed sponsors!
- The Baltimore Appliqué Society
- Mimi and Bob Dietrich
This exhibition would not be possible without the help of the Sheppard Pratt Health System, especially Vaune Kopeck and Lisa Illum, who helped us understand modern occupational therapy and Dr. Dunton’s work at Sheppard Pratt.
We would also like to thank the Baltimore Museum of Art for access and use of their Dunton Collection, which provided intimate insight into Dunton’s life. Finally, we would like to thank our “hometown girl” Mimi Dietrich for inspiring us to create an exhibition highlighting our Baltimore album quilts.