The Emporia Public Library’s 150th Anniversary Speaker Series concluded Saturday with “Sharing Patterns, Sharing Lives,” a presentation on the history of quilting in Kansas.
Keynote speaker Deborah Divine — President at the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana — spent the afternoon highlighting some of the most important and influential works from a variety of area artists. Audience members were acquainted with quilting legends Rose Kretsinger of Emporia, Charlotte “Lottie” Whitehill and Marie Webster, as well as lesser-known pioneers in the field like Josephine Craig, Carrie Hall, Emily Bigler, Bertha Brickell, Ifie Arnold, Hannah Headlee and Ruth Lee. If not directly from Emporia themselves, each woman had a connection to the area, some even including local landmarks such as Peter Pan Park in their works.
“These women had numerous sources of inspiration,” Divine said. “It came from the Colonial Revival movement, nature in their gardens, exhibits at state fairs, newspaper and magazine articles, quilts they inherited from their families and even quilts made by friends. Near the turn of the 20th Century, there was a change from liking the Victorian Era conventions and colors to more natural, garden-type designs and simple, pastel colors. It fit with the furniture that was being made.
“Fabric shops weren’t like they are today, obviously. There weren’t a lot of pastels and brighter colors, for one. It would’ve been a lot of dark, dark materials.”
Even back in the early 1900s, quilting was an expensive hobby, Divine said. In that era, it was not uncommon to see high-quality dresses and other garments sell for as low as $8 while the cost of making a quilt could sometimes range between $40-50, depending on its complexity. More intricate works required a healthy investment of time, too, with some of the day’s most celebrated pieces taking around five years to complete.
In summarizing her presentation, Divine hoped listeners would understand just how much the medium of quilting provided a form of expression for women during a time when female creators weren’t as respected as their male counterparts.
“Quilting gave a way for women to get together and produce works of art ...” Divine said. “It was one of the few ways for them to do that at the time, so I think that’s why these pieces really resonate with me.”