Please welcome guest author June Totten, Vice President of the Friends of the Museum of the Middle Appalachians. Totten organized the museum’s Appalachian Heritage Quilts exhibit with another Museum Friend, Loraine Price.
The Museum of the Middle Appalachians, in Saltville VA, tells and shows the history of this area. The museum has exhibits from the Ice Age, through Native Americans, on into the coming of the Europeans to the New World, the new nation brought about by the Civil War, industrialization and through the moon shots.
These permanent exhibits are enhanced by additional exhibits that are added for short term viewing. The last featured subject was Veterans – Men and women from Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee who served from the Civil War era through current day.
“Appalachian Heritage Quilts” – the current exhibit – spotlights quilts and their creators. One of the necessities in our existence is warmth; thus, covering is needed. Women, in an effort to provide for their families, turned to using any cloth available to sew together to form coverings. Eventually patterns developed and items of beauty emerged.
The handiwork of Southwest Virginia women and men is on display in the museum. Quilting groups can be found in most communities. One such group is the Busy Bee Quilters who meet every Wednesday morning (weather permitting) in the fellowship hall of a church in Broadford, VA. These ladies visit, share and eat together. In the planning of the quilt exhibit, they were visited; they shared ideas and promised quilts. Word was spread through the local newspaper and word of mouth.
Initially the museum’s quilt committee expected enough quilts to display in the Saltville Hall at the front of the museum, perhaps 25 to 50 quilts. Four weeks later, over 100 quilts fill the Saltville Hall, the conference room and the hallway!
The talented women and men who created these quilts have been coming to see the exhibit to see if their quilt is displayed. Many wonderful stories have come out of these visits and the registration of the quilts.
One husband brought quilts and later his wife to our door. Meet the Presnells.
There are 118 quilts featured in this exhibit. The assortment includes old and new, simple and intricate. The oldest quilt has the date of 1826 stitched in it and the newest quilt was completed in March of 2014. The son of this quilter brought his mother and his wife in to view the hanging of this just completed piece. This quilt, titled “Par Jello”, has 26 shades of yellow, orange, red, and green in waves of colors.
Another featured quilt was created by Zola Evans – the “Iris Quilt” was crafted over a period of 10 years. She bought the materials at an Amish yard sale from a lady who had just started to applique one iris, but gave it up. The lady had all the materials, already cut and ready, but realized it was more that she could handle. Zola took it home and was able to complete the masterpiece. Zola does not know how many quilts she has produced over the years, she says.
Vivian Cooper, of Broadford, VA, knows well the history of her quilt in the exhibit. It was her husband Joe’s grandmother’s. It was quilted circa 1900. The pieces are home spun and the batting is sheep’s wool from the family farm. This treasure has been placed in a glass case for viewing.
Each quilt and each creator has a story. Each piece is beautiful in its own way – age, color, design or simplicity. Whether a warmer for cold nights or naps – quilts are a record of families and their history. The heritage of Appalachia will live on and on.
The Appalachian Heritage Quilt exhibit is open through the summer to Labor Day. Visit the Museum of the Middle Appalachians website for more information.