When Roxie Bell Hall Hale of Monroe County mourned her late husband, she decided to do it through making a quilt.
“These are ribbons from the floral arrangements from her husband’s funeral. It probably helped her with her grief,” said Sandra Staebell, Kentucky Museum registrar and Collections curator. “She pressed them, arranged them by color and sewed them on a treadle sewing machine.”
The now late Hale’s quilt is one of many being displayed in “Backward & Forward: 20th Century Quilts” in the Elizabeth Richardson Quilt Gallery at Western Kentucky University’s Kentucky Museum at 1400 Kentucky St. The exhibit will be displayed through February.
Museum Director Brent Bjorkman said the exhibit has an “amazing amount of diversity.”
“It really tells the story of Kentucky and how it’s moved over time and celebrates Kentucky artisans,” he said. “We want to create dialogue about art in our midst.”
The museum will also have Quilt Share Day from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 13 in conjunction with the exhibit. The event is for quilters and non-quilters to gather, look at quilts, talk about them and socialize. People can bring no more than two quilts to share or just come to look. Any quilts are welcome.
“It provides a time to validate and share family traditions,” Bjorkman said. “It’s great whether or not you have a quilt you’re bringing in.”
The exhibit features a variety of types of quilts, Staebell said.
“It’s filled with quilt-related materials,” she said.
There were a lot of “wonderful” things in special collections that are now part of the quilt exhibit, Staebell said.
“You had fun finding things,” she said. “It’s a treasure hunt as you go through a selection. You’re finding things you didn’t know you had.”
There are 250 quilts in the collection, Staebell said.
“It’s one of the largest publicly-owned quilt collections in the state. It’s what we’re known for nationally,” she said. “People started bringing them in. We started getting some interesting quilts.”
The quilts come from people from all walks of life, Staebell said.
“They can be from people in the community. They can be people with ties to Western,” she said. “They can be people who find us on the internet and are looking to return a quilt to Kentucky. They contact us to find out if we’re interested.”
Getting a quilt exhibited isn’t as simple as sending it in, Staebell said.
“The story is really important. What kind of story is associated with the quilt? Does it help us tell a story we want to tell here at the Kentucky Museum?” she asked. “We also consider the pattern and technique. Degree of uniqueness to the collection is important. We also consider condition.”
Another quilt is the William H. Natcher Necktie Quilt, which features some ties worn by the late congressman. The quilt was done by Maxine Webb of Adair County.
“Congressman Natcher was always impeccably dressed,” Staebell said. “He would bet on congressional league softball games or pending legislation. The wager was a tie.”
A burgundy-colored necktie with ice cream cones is Staebell’s favorite.
“The congressman probably won the bet and the person who lost probably went and found the kookiest tie he could find,” she said.
The Spectrum Quilt made by George Yarrall has traveled nationally, Staebell said.
“It has more than 66,000 pieces of fabric in it,” she said. “He was an immigrant from New Zealand and worked as a jewelry engraver at Morris Jewelry.”
In the 1920s and 1930s, people were doing quilts with a thousand and ten thousand pieces, Staebell said.
“One man did 126,000,” she said.
The quilts won’t be the only features of the exhibit. There are also beds and cribs to display the quilts.
“I think people who like furniture will be into this exhibit. It gives them something to look at,” Staebell said. “It’s like a little treat. We wanted people to get to enjoy the furniture in our collection as well.”
— For more information, call 270-745-2592 or visit wku.edu/kentuckymuseum.
— Follow features reporter Alyssa Harvey on Twitter @bgdnfeatures or visit bgdailynews.com.