'Covered in glory': Commemorative, antique Civil War quilts featured in new Grout Museum exhibit
By MELODY PARKER, email@example.com
WATERLOO, Iowa --- At the end of the Civil War in 1865, it is estimated that Northern women quilted nearly 250,000 quilts and comforters for Union soldiers, distributed through the Sanitary Commission.
Southern women made "gunboat quilts" to raise funds that eventually purchased three ironclad gunboats for the cause. As the war began in earnest, the quilts were sold to raise funds for medical supplies for the Confederacy, according to quilt historians. Fabric became scarce in the South, and women made their own homespun fabric by picking apart items like old mattresses.
Few Civil War-era quilts survive today, experts say, because they were lost or worn out and thrown away, and in some cases, used to wrap soldiers for burial.
This turbulent era of American history is the backdrop for a new exhibition at the Grout Museum of History and Science, "Covered By Glory: Civil War Commemorative Quilts." The show opens Jan. 27 and runs through Sept. 1.
Curator Robin Venter culled a handful of historic quilts from the Grout's own collection, as well as numerous commemorative quilts made from 10 to 150 years after the War Between the States from such well-known national quilters as Fons and Porter, Jo Morton, Mimi Dietrich and Judie Rothermel.
"Quilters are very generous. This is our 19th annual quilt exhibition, and I knew I would need quilts to supplement the display, so I started contacting quilters I've met over the years. Rothermel, who designs reproduction textiles and patterns for quilting, sent four quilts," says Venter.
Quilt historian and author Barbara Brackman has also loaned a quilt.
Women turned to needlework during the Civil War for many reasons, Venter explains, including to support their families, create items for soldiers and raise funds for items necessary for the war. At war's end, many women expressed their feelings by stitching commemorative quilts celebrating victory and honoring those who died.
"And 150 years later, the Civil War is remembered through commemorative fabrics, patterns and quilts that mark the Sesquicentennial. It was during the Bicentennial that people began to get interested in quilting with reproduction fabrics and patterns, and there wasn't much out there to begin with. Now the reproduction fabrics are so authentic it's hard, at a glance, to tell the difference between what is a commemorative quilt and what is the real thing," Venter explains.
Nestled among the collection of commemorative quilts and originals are such gems as an historic quilt loaned by antique quilt expert and collector Gerald Roy. Believed to have been made by a mother to protect her son, the Civil War quilt carries the phrase "Our Father Who Art in Heaven."
A reproduction flag quilt by "Happy Endings" author Mimi Dietrich, one of the founding "mothers" of the Village Quilters in Catonsville, Md., and the Baltimore Applique Society, will be displayed. It is the reproduction of a flag quilt now at the Smithsonian said to be based on the flag that flew at Fort Sumter, S.C., site of the first engagement of the War Between the States in April 1861.
Internationally known quilter Brenda Papadakis has loaned three quilts, including a "Dear Jane" quilt. Her book, "Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt" has inspired quilters from around the world. Noted area quilter Karan Flanscha has loaned her recently completed "Dear Jane" quilt, which took her 13 years to stitch completely by hand.
Tin-type photographs, antique dolls and other Civil War-era memorabilia and archives will enhance the exhibit. One quilt, "Fallen Soldier," will be displayed in the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.
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