Saturday, November 05, 2022

stitched stories

this is the text i wrote to go with the exhibition of my great grandmother's quilts.

these quilts and quilt tops were made by annie barnhart (1863-1946) of salem, south dakota. she was my maternal great-grandmother. i think she would be amazed to know that her rather prolific handiwork found its way to denmark with her great-granddaughter. 
my mother told a story from her childhood, of her grandmother, ill and bound to her bed at her daughter’s home in sergeant bluff, iowa, sewing away on these quilts. she had stacks of squares of different colors and she just spent her days, sewing them together. mom even said her eyesight wasn’t so great anymore, so the color combinations and the designs are even more amazing considering that fact. and i can’t even begin to count the number of hours that went into them. 

mom was born in 1939 and if her grandmother died in 1946, she must have been a small girl. she told me that she got to help do some of the stitching, so she had very fond memories of her grandmother working on them. i’m so glad that i know that and that she shared it before she lost those memories to alzheimer’s in her later years. 

i look at these quilts and i think of all the memories that are stitched into them that i don’t have access to. the stories behind all the old dresses and flour sacks that were cut into squares and sewn together by hand. some of the fabrics are surely 100 years old. i wish they could talk and tell of the occasions they were worn to – dances, parties, church, everyday life. i wish i could access those stories. 

sometimes, i feel like if i sit very still and i’m quiet enough, i will be able to hear them whisper their stories to me. i think one of the magical things about quilts is that they are very representative of their times – the fabrics used, the way they are stitched. they are quite literally the very fabric of their time. and they tell us a story even if we can’t necessarily hear the stories they tell. 

i feel privileged to share them all with you in this very magical place, across an ocean and a world away from where they were made. i hope that great grandmother annie is looking down and smiling. 

and i hope she likes the small mini-quilts that i made, using fabrics gifted to me by two friends, each with their own stories – mini quilts that i feel are a dialogue between me and those amazing women, continuing the tradition of telling stories through quilting in our family.

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