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Farmington Museum opens exhibition on quilting
Show features 22 pieces dating from 1849 to 1999
FARMINGTON — The name of the new exhibition opening Friday at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park is "Quilts and the Stories They Tell," but museum curator Jeffrey Richardson acknowledges that some of those stories are more obvious than others.
The exhibition includes 22 quilts from the museum's permanent collection and from other sources, with the pieces having been created between the years 1849 and 1999. Richardson said the museum was looking to put together a show that would highlight its permanent collection, as well as provide some lighter fare for visitors during the summer.
"You're looking at 150 years of history," Richardson said on Wednesday as he and the museum staff were hanging the exhibition. "And behind these fabrics, these textiles, there are some really fantastic stories."
In many cases, those stories are represented on the fabric itself, including names, dates and symbols. In other cases, the quilts are accompanied by materials that document their history. And in others, the viewer has to work a little harder to follow those stories, examining the quilts for telltale signs that provide clues about their origin and era, and the artists who made them.
But in all cases, the quilts are much more than simple bed coverings, Richardson said.
"Some of us have connections to (quilts) through our families, but all of them are something people cherish," he said.
Among the four quilts that were loaned to the museum for the exhibition are some that predate the Civil War. A quilt from 1860 is particularly notable, as it features dozens of different fabrics. Richardson said that characteristic was rare for that time, given the fact that few families had access to so many fabrics. He speculated that a member of the family may have been a merchant.
Another quilt also was created prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in Macon, Ga., he said. Documents that came with it explain how a Southern family preserved it by burying it in the yard when Union soldiers arrived, fearing it would be confiscated or destroyed along with so many of their other household goods.
"That just goes to show you how much they prized their possessions," Richardson said.
The exhibition has a strong local flavor, with 18 of the quilts having come from San Juan County. One of the relatively new quilts features self-portraits done by Apache Elementary School kindergarten students from the 1998-99 school year. Another, created by members of the Totah Cowbelles, a local women's organization that advocated for the livestock industry, features the names and brands of several local prominent ranching families.
Another quilt was crafted by members of the Scattergood Club, a women's social organization turned quilting guild that was active from 1933 to 1988. Richardson said the group initially got together to assist families in distress during the Great Depression — literally, to "scatter good" — but it also played an important role in providing social cohesion when San Juan County was an even more rural place than it is now.
"Many of the women (who were members) walked in the snow and the rain to attend meetings," he said. "It was, in many ways the highlight of their rather dull existence."
The quality of the quilts varies, and that also provides important clues about their history, Richardson said. He advised visitors to take note of the stitching, borders, patterns and material itself when examining the quilts, a few of which were made from kits or feature polyester or feed sack scraps.
But many others are highly regarded works of art, Richardson said, noting the impact the San Juan Quilters Guild — a local organization that sprung up during a resurgence in interest in quilting during the American bicentennial era of 1976 — had on local quilting.
He called attention to the so-called "president's" quilt crafted by Connie Nordstrom, a former president of the SJQG, that she donated to the museum. The quilt's high level of craftsmanship is apparent to anyone who examines it, he said, and represents the best of the local quilting tradition.
Though the local guild remains active, Richardson noted that quilting has declined in popularity in the United States in recent years. But that doesn't mean it should be dismissed as mere "folk art."
"Over the years, more people have started to (refer to quilting as fine art). … Nowadays, it's really respected for its craftsmanship and style," he said.
Richardson laughed as he considered the irony of presenting a show about warm bed coverings at a time when San Juan County is flirting with triple-digit temperatures each day, but he said the items in the show have played a vital role in local lifestyles for decades.
"It helps us tell more of that San Juan County history," he said. "Doing things like this is one way to do it."
The exhibition remains on display through Sept. 9.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Opening of the "Quilts and the Stories They Tell" exhibition
When: 8 a.m. Friday
Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.
For more information: Call 599-1174 or visit farmingtonmuseum.org