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Century-old quilt comes home

 

 

Detail from a quilt made by ‘Lizzie’ Wilson in 1900.

Detail from a quilt made by ‘Lizzie’ Wilson in 1900.

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

Earlier this month, the Lincoln County Historical Association added a more than century-old quilt to its valuable collection of local pieces.

Each item the LCHA obtains represents the local color of the community’s previous generations.

Hand-stitched in 1900 by Lincoln County native Elizabeth Susan Wilson, the colorful object contains numerous types of stitching patterns and fabrics.

Colors include navy, orange, green and tan, among other shades that have since dulled.

While some of the fabrics appear to have been worn down over the decades, a majority of them have preserved quite well, surprising local historian and LCHA Director Jason Harpe, who considered the quilt to be in “good” condition.

While it’s not in “excellent” condition, he said, the quilt could have suffered much aging and wear had it not been stored in a chest for years.

Leslie Munson said her father kept his mother’s many quilts in the chest until handing them down to her later in life.

She was not quite sure why the quilts were handed down to him first and none of his other siblings, including more than one sister, received them.

“For him to get these and to save them is miraculous,” Leslie said.

She believed that some of her existing family members, including a number of cousins who still live locally, are probably ignorant of the fact the items even exist.

The Munsons dropped by the LCHA office inside the Lincoln Cultural Center on Monday, after driving than 2,700 miles, from Portland, Ore., to deliver the family heirlooms.

Leslie’s sister-in-law, Jan Elmore, was also on-hand for the event.

Together, the couple and local historians agreed that the quilts were more than likely made for a functional purpose rather than part of an artistic hobby.

At the time, quilts were often made for a young, unmarried girl’s “hope chest,” where she stored household items and other necessities for her future married life, Leslie noted.

One of the quilts the couple donated was a coverlet, which Elizabeth Wilson stitched together using black and grey pieces of suits and tuxedos.

The topper also included colorful flower stitching and other distinct designs.

The Munsons said they visited Harpe a few years ago to chat about donating Elizabeth Wilson’s quilts but never had the chance again, until this month, to make the trip back to Leslie’s home county.

They also tried the North Carolina Textile Museum, who turned them down, uninterested in the item, Leslie said.

While the quilts will always remain valuable to her because of who made them and what they represent, she said she and Tom, her husband, had no reason to keep them at home.

They do still maintain two additional quilts Elizabeth Wilson made.

“This (in Lincoln County) is where they belong,” Leslie said. “They don’t belong in Oregon.”

Her husband agreed.

“They are Lincoln County artifacts,” he said.

In 1905, Elizabeth Wilson married Barry Franklin Elmore. Both were raised on the county’s western end in the Reepsville area, Leslie said.

She believed her grandmother crafted the quilt before marrying and was possibly part of a number of girls who pieced the quilt together, due to the stitching and fabric variety involved.

However, only one of the four quilts Leslie has contains both her grandmother’s name, “Lizzie S. Wilson,” and the date it was made, “1900.”

The reason for stitching the two items remains a mystery.

“We may not ever know her reasons for marking the quilt,”Harpe said, “but we do know that she took enough pride in it to ensure that future generations would know that she made it…Women like ‘Lizzie’ Wilson cared enough about the quality of the some of their quilts to leave a record on them.”

The signed quilt is also the first one ever donated to the LCHA.

Both the hand-stitched identifiers and the fact that the facility rarely receives quilts, makes the donation even more special.

“People don’t stitch anymore,” Harpe said. “It’s too laborious.”

The quilt is additionally valuable because LCHA officials know its “provenance,” or chronology of its owners.

“We know who made it,” Harpe said, “(and) all of the folks who have owned it, photographs of Lizzie and her family, where she lived and where she is buried.”

Eventually, the quilt and its coverlet will be conserved, Harpe said, but an actual cost of the project has yet to be determined.

Until then, the items will be cleaned and carefully stored at the historical facility.

In order to prevent the cleaning process from destroying the fabric, Harpe said officials will place a soft, plastic screen over the quilts and use a vacuum to remove bugs and other items that may be on the quilts.

“We will photograph them, document them and store them,” Harpe said.

He believes the community should care about the quilts’ historical significance for a number of reasons.

“It documents a cottage industry in Lincoln County dominated by women,” he said, “who produced these artifacts for utilitarian purposes. Although they made them to be used in the home, the artifacts possess an artistry that expresses the stylistic elements and prevailing themes of the time period in which they were made.”

Some of the other quilts the LCHA has encountered over the years date back to before 1900, Harpe said, including one particular one from 1877 that is owned by an area resident, not the LCHA.

For more information on the quilt or the LCHA, call (704) 748-9090 or email lcmh@bellsouth.net.

Image courtesy of Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News

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