News Column

Quilt exhibit provides snapshot of history

June 23, 2014

By Rummer Bershtein, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

June 23--The Monroe County History Center stands at Sixth and Washington streets, and while its stone appearance is humble, the inside of the building holds large rooms filled with local, historical riches. The purpose of the history center is to not only preserve Monroe County's extensive past, but also to enrich the knowledge of those who currently reside here.

"Our visitors vary from summer camps bringing kids to learn to older people coming to reminisce about their past," said Jenny Mack, exhibits manager at the center.

One special exhibit currently being held in the Brown Gallery of the building until Aug. 1 is called "Cracking the Code: Quilt Pattern Meanings" and features quilts of different designs, purposes and ages.

Mack said that every year she puts on a quilt exhibition to go along with the annual one at the Bloomington Monroe County Convention Center. With names like "Crazy Quilt" to "Wedding Ring Quilt" and dates as old as 1840, the exhibit provides a snapshot of mysterious Monroe County history.

The exhibit goes more in depth as it adds to and questions the theory that quilts were used as code during the Underground Railroad.

"Although it has been proved that they were not used as code, we've tried to expand on different sides of the theory and let viewers develop their own ideas for what they were used for," Mack said.

Having worked at the museum for five years, she said most of the pieces are from the museum collection, while the rest were donated from people who found the quilts in their grandparents' houses and wanted them to be preserved.

The Brown gallery consists of a large wood-floored room that glows with the gold lighting shining from the ceiling.

Some of the quilts are lined up against the walls, while others hang in the middle of the room. Shades of subtle blues, vivid pinks and vibrant reds ambush the eyes and spark curiosity in visitors. The quilts are thoughtfully displayed depending on their size and theme, and small white cards provide background information for each one.

Mack's favorite quilt, and a common visitor favorite as well, is the largest and most attention-grabbing piece. The "Star Quilt," as it is named, is made up of a total of 4,608 pieces of fabric and features a mixture of swirls of red and black and white squares of pink flowers. Mack personally loves the many different patterns in the fabric and loves trying to guess what it was used for.

Visitors can also get their hands dirty. They can sit at a small table in the back corner and recreate parts of the exhibit with squares of felt. Mack compares it to a puzzle in that "you can look at a quilt then recreate it on a piece of cardboard."

The exhibit is not guided unless visitors call ahead and schedule a guide. For nonmembers the entry fee is $2 for adults and $1 for children age 6-18. Kids under age 5 are free.

The museum gift shop is on the main floor and sells bonnets, history books, soap and various other items.


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Source: Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)

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