Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2018

Ethiopian quilt tells of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Q: This is my roommate's 1939 Ethiopian story quilt. Dimensions are: 50.5" x 29.5". She has an Ethiopian friend and was told that it is dated 1939 and tells the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Can you find out more about it, particularly its value?

A: I find story quilts or story paintings fascinating. Each little panel tells a portion of story. A popular topic was King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. We all have some familiarity with traditional quilting. Fabric quilts can tell a story through the fabrics used, applique or writing pieces of the story in each quilt block. The double wedding ring quilt comes to mind.

Other story quilts include the massive AIDS quilt.  I have also seen a very humbling story quilt on the Holocaust. There are several cultures and religions that create painted story quilts, including Ethiopia.

The three popular subjects for traditional Ethiopian story quilts include King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, battle scenes and basic home life. The older story quilts were painted on parchment.

The queen's visit to the court of Solomon, King of Israel and son of the legendary Goliath slayer David, is well-attested in three major ancient sources: the Biblical Old Testament, the Islamic Qu'ran, and the Ethiopian Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings). When combined, you get a story of a powerful woman and ruler with a few variations here and there.

One of the things I found interesting is when the Queen of Sheba raised her skirt for King Solomon's approval he took issue with her hairy legs. He ordered her to bathe in a compound that contained arsenic and all the hair was removed from her legs. Once that was complete he welcomed her in to his bed and from that encounter she became pregnant.

Solomon is said to have had a way with animals; when called they would come to him. This is depicted in the "quilt" by a sheep or goat in the first few panels. It will probably be easier to decipher the story quilt if you can pull up this website - I was not able to equate the larger center block with any of the reading I did.

As for value, this particular quilt shows no visible signs of damage and the colors are very vibrant. If it is the age indicated, the quilt is valued at $2,500. If an artist name is on the piece the value goes up about $300.

A modern story quilter

Faith Ringgold is a well-known American story quilt painter. She was first introduced to this art form after seeing Tibetan Tankas, paintings framed by cloth, when visiting museums in Amsterdam. Her primary goal was to tie in narrative images and original stories of African American history. This included the civil rights movement from a female's perspective, the underground railroad, her childhood growing up in Harlem and other historic people and events pertaining to African Americans. At the time of Ringgold's creations African American art and artists were not represented in galleries or shows. This was a wall she was intent on breaking through and she proved to be very successful at it.

If you are interested in making your own story quilt, visit the website,

Tibetan Tanka


Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.