Wrap Yourself in History

Equal parts a practical means for warding off the cold and fabric works of art, quilts have a rich history in the United States, dating all the way back to Colonial times.

The Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan keeps nearly 60 quilts in its permanent collection, with a portion of those now on exhibit in Wilson Gallery.

“It’s been at least a decade since they have been on exhibit,” said Danyeal Dorr. “They all are from local people.”

Among the oldest is a patchwork quilt created in 1883 by members of the Ladies Aid as a fundraiser for First Congregational Church. On the reverse side of the quilt are autographs, which were solicited for 10 cents per signature. The quilt was won in a raffle by Kittie L. Power and donated to the museum in 1968 by Alice Power.

Another interesting example was stitched as a pyramid pattern lap quilt nearly a hundred years later in 1985 by Amelia Paad. What sets it apart is that the triangle pieces of fabric used in it came from the dress-making operations at the old Alpena Garment Factory from the years 1937 to 1939.

Other quilts feature familiar patterns such as a 1940 double wedding ring quilt and a triple Irish chain quilt made in 1895. In 1991-92, fourth graders at the former Maple Ridge Elementary School put together a quilt that features historic and educational highlights regarding the State of Michigan and that is now included in the exhibit.

So too, is an International Shipmasters Association Quilt stitched in1986 by Mrs. Duane Dembny. It features 25 stacks or emblems of shipping lines previously or currently operating on the Great Lakes.

Additional quilts include one featuring different crosses throughout history, a windmill blades patterned quilt made in 1880 that was entirely hand-cut and hand-stitched, and a Lancaster rose quilt from 1936. The oldest quilt on display is one created in 1870 in a classic geometric design called flying geese.

Dorr said it was a pleasure to go through all of the quilt in preparing for the exhibit.

“It’s just a joy to share the materials people have donated over the years rather than keep them in cold storage,” Dorr said.

Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski added that the quilt exhibit, coupled with a new train exhibit and many other diverse displays around the museum have been well received by the public.

“This museum belongs to the community, and it’s really refreshing to see so many people coming in and to feel the positive energy,” Witulski said. “There really is something here for everyone.”

The museum’s current quilt exhibit will remain up through Apriil 19.