Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quilting Decoded

Last week we celebrated the opening of our newest temporary exhibit, Harvest of Heritage. The touring exhibit created by the Museum of Western Colorado, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces Program and presented by Colorado Creative Industries, displays artists works linked to Colorado’s rich agricultural heritage. Artists chosen for inclusion in this exhibit have met the highest standards of the Colorado Creative Industries’ Cultural Heritage Program. Many have been awarded state grants and fellowships to help them preserve, present, pass on and celebrate their traditional art form. Two have received the National Endowment for the Arts’ highest honor for our nation’s tradition bearers. Many have served as master artists who have passed on skills and knowledge to a next generation of apprentices. Their stories bring our state’s history and geography to life.

The museum has contributed a few of its own artifacts to the exhibit while it is being housed there for six weeks. The artifacts celebrate Telluride's heritage through traditional art form, and just like the others displayed; they too have a story to tell.

The cotton gold and cream double hourglass patterned traditional quilt had been authenticated by the Colorado Quilting Council in 2005 as a historic quilt. The general knowledge of its construction and fabric content were noted. Beyond that however, the museum currently has no information on its origination. Admittedly I was interested in it mainly because it matched the yellow color theme of the exhibit, but also its intricate hand stitching and simple design has impact. It seemed special, magical. In honor of the Harvest of Heritage exhibit and having heard that every quilt pieces together a story, I felt compelled to research the story of our quilt's pattern.

Most quilting bees were social gatherings of women helping a friend or neighbor finish a quilt, and more often helping a bride-to-be finish her quilts before she married. Women could share family news, exchange recipes, and give child-rearing tips. Quilting was a social asset, and next to church, going to quilting bees was the primary contact for women.

It is speculated the hourglass quilt pattern was originally developed as “quilt code” by the Sealcott Indians to help fugitive slaves escape north to freedom. These coded quilts would have hung outside windows or on fences advising escaped slaves when and where it was safe to travel. The color of the hourglass indicated what time of day help would come: red for morning, yellow or green for afternoon and blue or black for evening.[1]

"Quilt code" is a highly debated subject, with many theories on the code's existence, or non existence. Myth or fact, the idea of quilt code empowers and adds mystery to the unknown story of our own traditional gold and cream double hourglass patterned quilt.
Cameo Hoyle
Exhbits Manager
Telluride Historical Museum