A Quilt Museum and a Family Story

Sometimes you see something that makes you feel a bit sentimental and a bit sad, for what is now missing in your life.  A stop at a quilt museum has made me long for time with my father and grandmother both who are gone.  However I have a piece of history to cling to and remind me of who and where I came from.

My tale begins with a quilt find.  My mother found a quilt at an auction and somehow found out that the quilt top had been made by my grandma Helen Disque Davis and my father’s great grandmother Watkins. They created the quilt top in Salisbury, Illinois then years later  they (there are two of them) ended up at the sale.  My mother took the quilts and had them completed and gave one to me and one to my sister Debbie.

My quilt has the Sunbonnet Sue design and since losing my dad in February of 2015 it means more and more to me.


gma quilt

That is how I came to have the family Sunbonnet Sue design.  I know it is a common design but since I am not much of a quilter (did the quilt in a day, it took a year) my admiration is high while my knowledge is minimal – and I have not seen many of them.

Then we come to the quilts and the site where I saw many Sunbonnet Sues!  For years as we traveled to Amana Colonies I have seen the sign for Kalona Iowa and wondered about the Kalona 1800’s Historical Village and museum.  The area was settled by Amish and Mennonites and caught my curiosity.  Last Christmas we drove into the area and saw how lovely it was, but the museum and village were closed.  This past weekend we stopped by on the way home from a swap meet in Minnesota and I was not disappointed.  While I came mainly to see the agricultural display, the quilt museum caught my attention because of a family link.

Besides the historical village, which offers 15 buildings to tour, there are three museums, one of which is the Kalona Quilt and Textile Museum (WQTM). In fact, according to a Community Guide I picked up, this site is considered the Quilt Capital of Iowa.  In their museum they offer two galleries, one which is Amish quilts and the other English (non-Amish) quilts. The theme for the spring quilt collection for the English quilts is the Sunbonnet Sue design and they have a vast array of different Sunbonnet Sue designs.  Many come from the collection of Jean Brew from Wisconsin and others from the collections of Catherine Litwinow of Bettendorf and Marilyn Woodin of Iowa City as well as a few from KQTM.

Seeing the vast array of Sunbonnet Sue’s made me think about my grandmother who I really didn’t know very well, but having this tangible connection to hold brings her closer to me.  It also makes me think of my father and my mother who took the jump to buy the quilt tops and give my sister and I a bit of physical heritage to wrap up in when I want to feel closer to my dad whose memories of Salisbury where these quilts were made were so good.  He loved his Grandmother Watson and some of my last memories with him was covering ground of Salisbury as he regaled me with stories of being a young boy running wild over the streets of Salisbury, Illinois. Salisbury and Sunbonnet Sue and the Kalona quilts all are precious to me at this minute reminding me of how loved I was and how loved I am still am.


Kolona quilt

Look for stories about the Historical Village in an upcoming issue of my column in Farm World and one focusing on the Agricultural Museum in an upcoming issue of Heritage Iron. Open from April to October, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 p.m., and November through March they are open from Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m, – 3:00 p.m.  There are lots of events scheduled.  For more information about the Kalona Historical Museum, email www.kalonaiowa.org or call 319-656-2519.

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