Pieces Of The Past: Museum on a quest for the oldest quilts in Rogers

Pieces Of The Past: Museum on a quest for the oldest quilts in Rogers
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com

Right now, the oldest quilt in Rogers is officially a “Whig Rose” pattern made in 1858 by Mary (Polly) Miller. She was the mother of Temperence Van Winkle, whose husband Peter “built and operated the state’s largest sawmill and supplied the lumber for most of the Victorian houses still seen today from Fayetteville to Bentonville to Eureka Springs,” recounts the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

That obviously makes the Whig Rose quilt an important artifact in the collection of the Rogers Historical Museum. But the museum’s director, Serena Barnett, wondered if there was more to learn.

“Quilt making has a long history here in the Ozarks that goes back to the mid-1800s when the first settlers began to arrive,” she says. “Those early settlers brought the tradition of quilt making with them, and this skill was passed down through from generation to generation. There are families living in Northwest Arkansas today that most likely still have some of those quilts that were made several generations ago.

The “Whig Rose” pattern is featured on the oldest quilt currently in the Rogers Historical Museum collection. It was made in 1858 by the mother of Mrs. Peter Van Winkle. (Courtesy Photo)

“As part of the celebration of Rogers’ 140th anniversary, RHM and the Northwest Arkansas Modern Quilt Guild thought that it would be fun to get the community involved to see if together we could find the oldest quilt in Northwest Arkansas.”

To that end, the museum has announced a Quilt Quest that continues through May 10, with the finalists to be evaluated at the Founders’ Day event June 5.

“Quilts are great examples of domestic art which could be defined as a way to accomplish beauty, practicality and comfort in the home,” says Monte Harris, the museum’s programs educator who is also riding herd on the Quilt Quest. “In the old days, it did not matter if rich or poor, the quilt maker could express their personal artistic creativity using whatever material scraps were available.”

Harris says she’s never had the patience to quilt, but “I especially enjoy learning about the ingenuity, resourcefulness and skill required to make something out of whatever was available especially back in old days.” In her search for the oldest quilt in the RHM collection, she also found a photo of four children posed in front of a “Wandering Geese” quilt from the turn of the 20th century.

“The bed was covered with a quilt for warmth on cold nights,” Harris says, “but, sometimes, the quilt also could warm the heart as well. Perhaps a square within a quilt pattern was once a scrap of a child’s first summer dress and another piece was from grandmother’s flowery print apron. The longer the quilt remained in the family, the more stories could be preserved in every colorful piece.”

The Quilt Quest is the first time, to the staff’s knowledge, the museum has asked the public to share their oldest quilts.

“Since we are preparing to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Rogers, we thought it would be an interactive way to honor our heritage and perhaps see some Northwest Arkansas family heirloom quilts at the same time,” Harris says.

The children are unidentified, but the quilt pattern is known as “Wandering Geese.” The photo is in the RHM archives and is believed to have been made sometime in the early 1900s. (Courtesy Photo)

“Complete historical and/or technical knowledge of the quilt or quilt maker is not required,” Barnett adds. “We will consider any information, particularly family stories, as important clues to solving the mystery of the quilt’s age.”

While the museum staff is “leading the coordination of the Founders’ Day” to celebrate Rogers’ 140th, there’s also a lot of collecting going on. A time capsule is being filled with items that represent Rogers in 2021, among them written reflections submitted by individuals in the community, photos, newspaper articles, a covid face mask, a city of Rogers flag and a Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce business directory. The time capsule will be opened in June 2081 for the Rogers Bicentennial, Barnett says.


FYI

Quilt Quest

SUBMISSIONS — Through May 10; finalists will be evaluated and photographed for posterity at Founders’ Day June 5 at the Rogers Historical Museum.

DOCUMENTATION — Two color photographs of each quilt are required for each entry, one focused on overall design and one a closeup view of stitching, workmanship and fabric.

ENTRY — There are no entry fees and no limit on the number of entries. An entry form is required for each quilt.

INFO — Call Monte Harris at 621-1154 or email mharris@rogersar.gov. Entry forms are available beginning April 12 at the Rogers Historical Museum.

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