Although dozens of Staten Island needlewomen are represented in the 170-piece quilt collection of Historic Richmond Town/Staten Island Historical Society, none enjoys the renown of Mary Totten (1781-1861), whose family apparently became identified with Tottenville.
The gifted and inventive Totten’s quilts have traveled far from the South Shore. The New York State Historical Association (Cooperstown) owns one, as does the Smithsonian Institute. One of her Star of Bethlehem patterns, a popular 19th-century design, is even available as a poster peddled on-line.
Richmond Town owns two Tottens, both made in the 1830s and both sewn and pieced in the popular Star of Bethlehem design, surrounded by “leaves with wandering vines with flowers.” The more elaborate of the two adds birds to the vines and flowers surrounding its central star.
These days at Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave., visitors will see authentic-looking coverlets in the “living history” village’s restored period interiors, but all are reproductions. The real quilts are too rare, valuable and fragile for long-term display.