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01 Apr 2020

In Profile: Clara Leon

Clara (Dobriner) Leon was born in Hoffenheim or Heidelberg, Germany, and came to the United States on March 11, 1867, arriving in the port of New York on the ship America. She came from a cultured and musical family who supported arts, entertainment, and musicals in their new confines. The following year, she married German-born Pincus (Peter) Leon (c. 1831–1896) in Manhattan. Following the migration pattern of many immigrant German Jews, the Leons joined a growing Jewish pioneer community on the western frontiers as they traveled by covered wagon seeking greater economic opportunities. 

In 1869, they were living in Independence, Missouri, where their daughter, Carrie, was born. By 1873, they were in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the largest town between San Francisco, California, and Independence, where the infamous Doc Holliday once hung his shingle before riding west with Wyatt Earp. As a merchant, Pincus was attracted to the location by the proximity to the Santa Fe Trail and expansion of commerce through the developing railway system. In 1884, the Leons were among thirty-six Jewish families living in Las Vegas who established Temple Montefiore, the first congregation in the New Mexico territories. They also contributed to the Las Vegas Academy, which their daughter attended.

Family lore states that her piano also traveled by covered wagon. This may account for some of the musical motifs in this quilt, a fashionable and elegant textile that features sumptuous velvets, chenille threads, and silk embroidery, perhaps available through her husband’s business or the three-story department store founded by Charles Ilfeld, another Jewish pioneer. Each of the borders displays a bounty of floral and leaf arrange-ments suggestive of the changing seasons from fall leaves to winter sprays. One block includes the Odd Fellows interlocking three rings. 

By 1892, Clara and Pincus were living in Trinidad, Colorado, and were members of Temple Aaron, the oldest synagogue in Colorado, which was founded in 1883. She was a charter member of the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, and participated in fundraising fairs and teas. Clara and Pincus Leon are buried next to each other in the Masonic (also Odd Fellows) Cemetery in Trinidad Colorado, in a section devoted to members of the congregation.


Stacy C. Hollander, “Crazy Quilt,” exhibition copy for American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2020.