Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Exhibit: Civil War quilts from Illinois

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Exhibit: Civil War quilts from Illinois

Civil War Quilters: Loyal Hearts of Illinois opened in May at the Illinois State Museum's gallery in the historic town of Lockport. It's an hour-and-a-half drive from here (or 79 miles -- Chicagoans tend to give directions in terms of time first, then distance) so going to see it takes a little more intention than just hopping in the car.  On Friday the library system board met at the headquarters in Burr Ridge, just 17 miles from Lockport.  The meeting ended at noon. A half hour later I was at the gallery. (It would have been just "22 minutes" per Google maps had I not taken the wrong exit off I-55.)

As the exhibit website explains, "The twenty Civil War-era quilts in the exhibition provide a passage through which to explore the lives and wartime support activities of the women who made them. Each quilt on exhibit has its own unique story and individual attributes, even though they were collectively created in the same time period. One is a particularly rare quilt that has recently received national attention: a Log Cabin quilt from Anna, Illinois, that was pieced together with fabrics including scraps from both Union and Confederate uniforms. The uniform scraps reportedly belonged to the maker's sons who fought on both sides of the war. An album quilt on display was made by Martha Jane Gourley (Gehlman), a close neighbor of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield. Miss Gourley's friends and family, whose names adorn this quilt, are from northern as well as southern states, representing the range of families who settled the "West," as Illinois was then considered."

Other than the museum employee at the front desk, I was the only person in the gallery. The only thing better than this private viewing would have been to be in the company of fellow quilters who would be equally appreciative. 

Rose of Sharon, circa 1862, by Sarah Ann Massie Bateman, Morgan County.

Checkerboard, ca. 1865, by Hester Malone Wright,
 Marshall County. The yellow-green blocks were probably much greener originally.  (Green dye was notoriously unstable.)

This floral wreath, by Elizabeth Sutherland Jones of Long Creek and Mount Zion, Macon County, is beautifully appliqued and exquisitely quilted. Note that the green fabric has not faded.

Sarah Ohmart Traylor, Montgomery County, made this log cabin quilt. "Log cabin quilts emerged as a new piecing method around the time of the Civil War," reads the accompanying text.

Oak Leaf by Sarah Ann Dunn, Effingham County. Another example of exquisite quilting.

This quilt is quite small -- about 48 x 48. Made by Jane Gaunt Russell of Hawkins Co., Tennessee,  and later of Jerseyville, Illinois. Fabrics are pre-war.
 This scrappy star variation looks contemporary.  "According to family tradition, Lucinda [Taylor Conkling] sent [this and another quilt] to comfort four-year-old Frances as she departed Illinois in a covered wagon for western New York."

star block detail 
The Seven Sisters is my favorite quilt of all in the exhibit. I tried to take a picture of one hand up against a block to show the size, but the picture didn't work.  I swear I did not touch the quilt!  The blocks are about 4.5".  Made by Mary Ellen McLain James and her husband George W. James in Cass County, circa 1870.

 Made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war as a fundraiser for veterans in Harrisburg, Saline County.

This large log cabin quilt was most likely made by Sarah Reed of Anna, Illinois. It has pieces from both Union and Confederate uniforms.  It was not uncommon for families in southern Illinois to have soldiers fighting on both sides. 

It, too, looks comporary.  I also recognized it.  It's on the cover of Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War . It tops my list of Best Quilt Books. I would love to see the major exhibition that it accompanies. 

 I want to return to Lockport with my husband to see the other historic sites in this canal town.


  1. I've seen many CW quilts; those are stunning. I'm glad you took the time to see the exhibit. I would gladly have accompanied you, had I known! It's nice to see smaller museums (making an assumption here) show CW quilts that don't focus on the questionable "Underground Railroad" tradition.

  2. A truly lovely quilt show Nann. Thank you for sharing. A pity there weren't others in the gallery to share your thoughts with. I also love the 7 sisters pattern. It is on my to-do list.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! It's nice to see something from home on the group!

  4. Thank you for the armchair tour of the quilt exhibit. I appreciated not needing to do a lot of walking to enjoy these lovelies.


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