Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 335-336
Located at the convergence of three major overland trails, Nebraska became the new home to many settlers and the quilts they carried westward in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generations later, some of these settlers' descendants gifted surviving quilts to local historical societies and museums. Drawing on information collected as part of the Nebraska State Quilt Guild's "Quilt Preservation Project," independent curator Sandi Fox researched the quilts tucked away in these cultural institutions. The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery hosted the resulting exhibit, "Going West: Quilts and Community," from October 2007 through January 2008. The exhibit's catalog, Going West!, includes opening thoughts by the Smithsonian American Art Museum's director, Elizabeth Broun, an introductory essay by Roderick Kiracofe, and commentaries on individual quilts by Fox.
Kiracofe, a renowned quilt dealer and author, provides a thoughtful look at his favorites among the quilts exhibited, offering both context and commentary in a lively narrative. Speculating on makers' intentions and owners' use, he demonstrates that quilts have long had symbolic value in their ability to evoke emotion and memories. Quilts that traveled overland to Nebraska took up precious cargo space, and Kiracofe speculates that many were discarded along the way. But those that arrived intact-and particularly these that were preserved for subsequent generations-no doubt were tangible mementos of the lives settlers left behind. Neither Kiracofe nor Fox addresses the next step in these objects' biographies: how 'they ended up in institutions like the Fort Sydney Museum or the Loup County Historical Society. The donation of these cherished family heirlooms is a significant-but here neglected-aspect of quilts' ability to serve as much more than bedcovers.