Saturday, April 23, 2011

Evening with the Emerald Valley Quilters

Album with Lyre Medallion by Mary Couchman Small, 1850
On Thursday evening, I gave a presentation for the Emerald Valley Quilters Guild in Eugene. It was a full house in the Masonic building across from Autzen Stadium, and audience members were treated to mostly new acquisitions plus the 1850 Album with Lyre Medallion by Mary Couchman Small of Martinsburg, West Virginia. With the exception of the Album quilt, all the quilts I showed had been acquired in the last year, but I decided to bring the Album because it's such a spectacular quilt and I knew everyone would enjoy seeing it.

Star Medallion, c. 1800, Rhode Island
The talk started with an introduction about how I bought my first quilt, followed by the story about the Album quilt. Then I showed quilts in reverse chronological order according to the date each quilt was made. I started with the exquisite Star Medallion quilt, circa 1800, from Rhode Island, and said the same thing I had said to the Northwest Quilters when recently sharing it with the group during a show and tell at a guild meeting. "Take a good look at this quilt, because you may never see another one like it," I said.

Honeycomb Hexagons, 1842, Pennsylvania
The next quilt was the 1842 Honeycomb Hexagons quilt, part of my Rescue Quilts group. I shared the story about how the red hexagons were covered with an old, faded restoration and explained my decision to remove the restoration, exposing what I feel was the essence of the maker's original vision.

The Macmillan family quilt (detail), 1868, Kentucky
The 1868 New York Beauty made by the MacMillan family of Kentucky was up next. While speaking about the characteristics of this quilt, including it's superior quality hand quilting, there was an important point I missed regarding the inevitable comparisons between hand quilting and modern machine quilting. I may have put the traditional hand quilting on a pedestal high above machine quilting, but the truth of the matter is I see high levels of mastery in both traditional hand quilting and the finest machine quilting being done today. Both types of quilting are potent methods of artistic expression requiring a high level of technical proficiency, and I have great respect for both.

New York Beauty with Vines and Pomegranates, c. 1870, Kentucky
Another New York Beauty quilt from Kentucky, a very rare example with vine sashing, pomegranates, and double-line clamshell or fish-scale quilting was next. While looking at the New York Beauties, I talked a bit about the upcoming exhibit at the Benton County Historical Museum and told the story about how the opportunity to show quilts came about. Realizing I was running out of time in the hour-long talk, I breezed through the Album with Rooster Medallion and reminisced a little about being from New Jersey, where the quilt was made by Hannah Swin in 1868.

Album with Rooster Medallion by Hannah Swin, 1868, New Jersey
Nearing the end of the talk, I made a big jump forward in time to 1995 and the Nine-Patch Center Medallion Strip Quilt made by Lucy Mingo of Gee's Bend, Alabama. It was a relevant quilt to show in light of the news that the Gee's Bend quilters would be visiting Oregon in July for the Quilter's Affair and Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, where I will also be speaking. Audience members reacted in near disbelief when I told them the remarkable story about this quilt, its maker, and how the quilt and its story came to me.

Nine-Patch Medallion Strip Quilt by Lucy Mingo, Gee's Bend, Alabama
Last quilt of the day was "Oriental Express" made in 1999 by Debra Kerns of Lafayette, Indiana. I included this quilt not just because it is a wonderful, lively example, but to talk a little bit about how I'm putting together the show at the Benton County Museum to include over 150 years of history in one quilt pattern. It was only during the last few years that I'd broadened the scope of my collection to include 20th and 21st century quilts, and I explained how I had become interested in the "younger" quilts.

"Oriental Express" by Debra Kerns, Indiana, 1999
At the very end, there was time for some Q & A, and I was delighted by the number of thoughtful, intelligent questions. An audience member asked if my mother liked my quilts after I'd made several references to her during the talk. So I quickly told the story about how I'd hidden my first quilt from Mom and worried about what she might say when she discovered the indulgent purchase. Mom said, "Bill, that was the best thing you'd ever spent your money on." What a great way to end the talk, I thought.

It was a great honor to be invited to speak to the group. I was grateful for the opportunity and did my best to make sure the audience enjoyed themselves. There was laughter, a healthy dose of "oooh's and ahhh's" and a whole building full of quilt makers and quilt lovers with wide eyes, craning their necks to get a better look at each quilt I brought before them. Before and after the talk, many people came up on stage to get a better look at the quilts, which I encouraged. It was a memorable evening for me, and I hope to visit the group again with more quilts in the future. I'd like to send a great big thank you to the guild, and especially to Sherry Galloway who invited me for the talk.


  1. Thanks for bringing me along via your blog!! I will never get tired of seeing these and one day I will be seeing them in real life! LOL

  2. Soon, I hope! The stage is set for Sisters, and speaking to the Emerald Valley Quilters felt like good practice for the type of presentation I'm planning during my evening lecture at the Quilter's Affair. Of course, I'll have a little more time and will bring as many quilts as I can. I'm thinking 20-30 would be a reasonable number. What to bring, what to bring...Hope you can make it!

  3. It is such a treat to visit your blog, read about the quilts and get inspired by the pictures!

  4. Glad you enjoyed! It was a treat for me, too. During the talk, I shared the new that I was going to Paducah to take my first steps toward becoming a certified quilt appraiser. I'm looking forward to seeing many more great quilts in my travels!

  5. What a great post. I felt like I was there. You have shared so much information about parts of your collection. I'm sure your evening would have been talked about quite a bit afterwards. May I add that I think you are made for quilt appraisals.

  6. Thank you, Liz! I have to admit, I was a little out of breath at the end. There was so much to say, and I was going at pretty a good clip. The more talks I've done, the more comfortable I've become with public speaking, and I'm happy about that. The quilts, however, were the true stars of the show.

  7. How I wish I could have been there too, to see your quilt collection and hear you talk about them would have been priceless.
    I didn't know you were from New Jersey! I am too.
    Thats exciting good luck in your journey into becoming a quilt appraiser, something I have thought about too.

  8. Bill, everyone loved your lecture. Many people have asked me to bring you back. You are a great speaker, high energy, articulate, and of course knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing more of your collection.
    Sherry Galloway
    PS I would recommend you to other guilds.