"Each rip and stain in the clothing tells a story," said
The exhibit, "Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War," was organized by the
It "lures you in with pretty quilts and then hits you over the head with history," said Hofer.
In addition to quilts by Southerners, Northerners and slaves, the show features clothing, uniforms, period images and artifacts, including the noose and scaffold hook said to have been used in the hanging of abolitionist
The exhibit begins with an enormous bale of cotton alongside a picking basket.
"The thread that runs throughout the exhibit is cotton, which the organizers argue was a leading cause of the Civil War," Hofer said.
The cotton, picked by slaves, flowed north to mills, and then textiles flowed back south. That traffic, and the personal stories and emotions told by the quilts and clothing, blur the Mason Dixon line in this exhibit, adding depth to a story often presented as neatly split between two warring sides.
The 1820 "Candlewick" bedcover, for instance, quilted in a white pearl and floral design on natural linen by Thankful Williams of
In the same gallery are samples of the rough fabrics used to clothe millions of slaves. Quaker and abolitionist
A quilt made of hand-spun linen and wool by three sisters enslaved by the Bushong family of
Many of the textiles are deeply political.
A "free labour" movement in the North rejected any clothing derived from slave labour; a sombre "free labour" dress from
Nearby is a flag made in
But the quilts are what steal the show.
"Women could not vote or be soldiers, but they expressed their political views and contributed to the war effort through quilts," Hofer explained.
Quilts — some made by whole communities — were lovingly assembled, stitched, stamped with a government seal and distributed to troops. Some featured encouraging phrases or poems: "Brave soldier thou will ever be remembered," says an inscription on a community-made quilt from
On the Confederate side, "gunboat societies" auctioned quilts to earn money toward a warship. An 1862 applique quilt from
Not all the quilters were women. An 1865 quilt was made from woolen blanket and uniform fabrics by an
A camp bed draped with mosquito netting and a
The exhibit ends with a bright and exuberant 1867 "Reconciliation Quilt" by
"Homefront and Battlefield" will travel to the
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