Monday, June 02, 2014

Objects last longer than people

Silk and velvet embroidered crazy quilt in the collection of the Centennial Museum, Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario Canada
There was a quilt exhibition at our local museum and I popped in.  It was nice to see the familiar pieces I'd handled when we first moved to the island and I volunteered at the museum.  The quilts in this new display were old friends.

The crazy quilts were my favourites.  I hadn't really appreciated them twenty years ago, but today they have a resonance.  They are paintings.  The variety of shapes appear to be random but I believe that they were chosen and placed with intent by their makers.

The quilt pictured above is compelling to look at from a distance.  Resembling a shattered mirror it holds fascination for the eye.  Closer inspection reveals that every piece has been edged lovingly with embroidery.
Wool crazy quilt in the collection of the Centennial Museum, Sheguiandah, Maniotulin Island, Ontario Canada
And the careful arrangements of black shapes on the second one might not be noticed when the quilt is horizontal on a bed, but on the wall they are as balanced as anything by Cy Twombly.

The women who made those quilts may have passed on, but the objects of their hands and heart are still very much alive. Time erases individuals but the things we make last.
typical embroidery

The staff at the museum were new to me.  All young (early -mid 20's) and not working at the museum twenty years ago, they didn't remember the family members who had donated these pieces.  The quilts themselves speak.


  1. When we first moved to Manitoulin, I was asked if I'd like to mount a quilt show as a fund raiser for the museum. This quilt show turned out to be a huge success, involving quilters from all over the island. The request for the exhibit was for any quilt as long as it was made or owned on Manitoulin.

    We received many heritage antique quilts as well as many traditional new pieces.

    This exhibition went on for at least ten more years, continuing to be affiliated with the Sheguiandah museum as well as the new quilt guild (which I was a founding member of and the first president).

    One of the things important to me at the time was to photograph and document all the quilts in the show. I took photographs (film photographs = this was 1994 ) and put them in a binder along with stories about each quilt.

    There was a similar binder made for subsequent shows - not sure if it was eight or ten shows - and all were donated to the museum for safe keeping. I don't believe anyone else took up the photographing after 2004, as the quilt guild split into two that year, and although there are still quilt shows on the island, they are no longer affiliated with the sheguiandah museum.

    Two of these binders were on display for visitors to read when I was in the museum last week. The stories and photographs of the makers and owners, plus several details of each quilt are very interesting. (to me at least).

    I asked if the remaining binders are still at the museum, and they are. In the back.

    One of these days, when I have more time, I'd like to make more of an organized record of the quilts of Manitoulin Island using those binders as a starting point for research.

    When I visited the show last week, the labels by the quilts were very generic. No dates, just the most basic of information (crazy quilts were popular for utilizing scraps) etc...or occasionally the name of the family that donated the piece. I'm pretty sure that the binder has more information scrounged up from real people who are no longer around.

    I was thrilled to see the quilts on display. I was saddened that the information about them and about the people who made them seems to have disappeared. That's what I wanted to say in this post...but I also wanted to say how moved I was by that first shattered silk quilt. It touched me and I'm still trying to figure out why.

  2. I have a crazy patch quilt that was started in 1915 when the owners husband went to World war 1 it was stopped when she received the telegram from the Australian Military saying her husband had died in 1917.... Leaving her with 2 sons to raise alone. I was given the quilt by the quilters daughter in law as she was the last in the family .
    I treasure it that she gave me the honour to take care of it.
    I enjoy showing it to young children and teenagers to show them the beautiful colours that they had back then and to appreciate something old.

  3. Thank you Judy. You are my inspiration.

    My first textile work was a small piece of crazy patchwork.

  4. ha, i am thinking about people that might wear out the things they make. things that get used that is. so important to carry the story along.....

  5. judy, your explanation here moves me. all that work seems less than honored, except the quits haven't been cut up or sold off, they remain. but, oh.

  6. i have some old ones that are worn out and i sometimes think of cutting them up for other things, but i just can't. i wore out one of them, since it was on my bed all the time i was growing up. my grandma is gone and it is still here. the stories are what i miss.
    i keep stitching and know it will outlast me..

    thanks for this post.

  7. I think that might be one of the reasons that I like to stitch and make quilts, Linda.

    I want my hands to touch others in future generations. They are objects that will outlast me.

    Thanks for all comments.

  8. This seems important work -- something you started and grew around back towards, prepared to meet . A book started. Perhaps part of an emotional journey to your own Yes in your own self/ work.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx