Paducah, KY – The Museum of the American Quilters Society in Paducah is hosting the exhibit, "Quiltmaking that Saw Us through the War Years, 1941-1945," through December 15th. Todd Hatton brings us this story on the kinds of quilts on display and what they say about the nation that made them.
In times of war, comfort is a precious commodity. We work to provide it to those serving on the front lines, whether Bastogne, Chosun, Khe Sanh, or Kandahar. For those tending the home front, comfort can come from the simple act of doing something to help those in harm's way.
And for decades, in almost all of America's wars, the quilt has been that something.
At Paducah's National Quilt Museum, visitors can view quilts from World War Two in an exhibit of pieces from collector Sue Reich through December 15th. The quilts vary only in skill and style; their depth of emotion and sincerity, however, is beyond measure. Museum Curator of Collections Judy Schwender says the simplicity of many of the pieces isn't surprising.
WW2QUILT4 (2): "I think these are quilts that didn't grow out of a quiltmaker making quilts, I think these are quilts that came from someone who wanted to express their patriotism or their love of country or they just felt very strongly about the war effort and maybe they had a loved one in the war." 17 sec
That patriotism took many forms. Among the quilts displayed, one pattern is the letter "V," as in "V for Victory," repeated in red throughout its width and length. Another is the insignia of the 8th Armored Division; part of George Patton's 3rd Army, who fought in the Ruhr Pocket, and was the first U-S division to liberate a concentration camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Schwender shows off what's called a "roll-call" quilt from Texas. The makers stitched the names of those from their area serving overseas; one in Burma, one New Guinea, another in North Carolina.
WW2QUILT4 (3) "And there was a couple that had come through from Minnesota, and they were looking at it and they recognized some of the names. Anytime you have names like that, you can really, really go back and find out a whole lot about what was going on and plus it really personalizes it. And the ones that are roll call quilts, we don't who came back and who didn't. And of course, they were hoping they would come back." 0:22
Those working in the U-S war effort are remembered as well. One piece is comprised of the silk signs warning daytime passers-by that a night-shift war worker is inside sleeping and another is made from the pennant the War Department awarded contractors who met strict labor standards. But the most unique piece was made by a music teacher from Louisville, Kentucky.
WW2QUILT4 (7) 0:30
A look around the room shows walls adorned with red, white, and blue; the only differences seem to be in the arrangement of the colors. Against that background, two quilts stand out; one by its absence, it's a quilt modeled on the Soviet Union's flag, a reminder of the days when the U-S and the U-S-S-R were allies. The other is distinguished by its well-used oranges, greens, browns, and black. There are no national symbols, no red, white, or blue. The type is called a one-patch, made of sewn-together scrap fabric.
WW2QUILT4 (1): "But if you look up there, that's a little tag. It's a 1 by 2 inch Red Cross tag and it indicates that this quilt was donated to the Lane county chapter of the Red Cross, Eugene, Oregon during the war. The quilt was purchased in Great Britain. So, who knows how it got there. And there was a lot of quilts that went to Britain, ah, and to the Netherlands and all over Europe because you know, people just lost everything." 28 sec
The quilt itself is touching, as all of them are...reminders of a time when Americans, and people all over the world, came together as never before, and sacrificed as never before, to make the earth a freer place.