RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) has opened “The Great Western Virginia Cover-Up: Historic Quilts & Bedcovers.” The exhibition presents more than 30 bedcovers – spreads, quilts, coverlets, blankets, and a rare bed rug – made in western Virginia between 1800 and 1950.
Organized by the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum (BRI&M) of Ferrum College, the show examines patterns, methods, and fabrics passed down through generations of Virginia
families. The bedcovers displayed are the survivors–the fragile remains of stitching and cloth that did not get ruined by their functional use.
“I can’t think of a better reason to visit a museum than to see a good quilt show,” said VHS lead curator and art historian Dr. William Rasmussen. “The pictures in books or online just don’t do these pieces of art justice, particularly with regard to size and surface detail. Quilt work can be a very strong art form. The quilts on display at the VHS have every bit as much power as a 20th century painting that utilizes only shapes and colors. In fact, I would argue that some of the covers in this show are as strong – or stronger – works of art than many of those paintings.”
Natalie Norris, a quilt collector and historian, curated the exhibition with assistance from appraiser and consultant Neva Hart. BRI&M Assistant Director Vaughan Webb said research for the show included “a great deal of detective work” to determine origins, dates, and fabric types. Most of the objects on display are from private collections and have never been included in a public exhibition.
“What museum visitors see in this show are the few samples that remain that a family member realized were special,” Webb said. “These are the quilts that didn’t get used up.”
The exhibition features bedcovers with familiar patterns, such as Flying Geese, Log Cabin, Pinwheel, Virginia Rose, Whitework, Crazy, and Pieced. There is an 1833 bed rug on display, one of only five surviving bed rugs known today. It also includes printed cotton animal feed sacks used for making everything from clothing to quilts to dish towels, an 1830s doll bed, a wooden quilting frame, a child’s sewing machine, a chicken-shaped thread holder, and a pin cushion in the form of a woman’s shoe.
Many of the pieces displayed include information about the creators and/or owners. Highlights include a fan quilt made by ballad singer Texas Gladden of Roanoke County, who was recorded by famed musicologist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress; a quilt presented to Reverend James Goode Lane Hash in 1921 by the women of Patrick County for his work as a advocate for the people of the mountains (including marrying couples at their mailbox and testifying as a character witness for moonshiners); and a cover embroidered with the name Eli Metzger, a still-unknown man thought to be the possible future husband of creator Barbara Ulrey Roat – until she married someone else in 1892.
The society is also hosting a free Quilt Documentation & Discovery Day from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28. Quilt owners are encouraged to bring quilts made before 2000; Virginia Consortium of Quilters will be photographing and recording information about the pieces and their makers for a statewide database maintained by the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg. A historian-led guided tour of the exhibition will be held at noon Oct. 16.
For more information on the Virginia Historical Society, call 804-358-4901 or visit http://www.vahistorical.org/.