NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- For many Mennonites today, quilting is more than a recreational activity. It represents a rich tradition and a gift to be passed from generation to generation. A new exhibit at Kauffman Museum recognizes the historical, cultural and artistic value of quilting in Mennonite communities. It’s also the first time Kauffman Museum has had a special exhibit focusing on historic quilts.
"The Gift of Quilting" showcases 18 quilts that Mennonites have donated to Kauffman Museum over the years. Many of these quilts have never been displayed publicly. An exhibit brochure describes each quilt’s history and design.
Most of the quilts have origins or strong connections to the Harvey, Marion and McPherson County area of south central Kansas, and most were donated by people from the same area.
For example, the late Linda Balzer Rupp of Moundridge found a Plume Appliqué and a Double Irish Chain quilt (donated to Kauffman Museum by her family, now of North Newton) in the Moundridge home of her step-grandmother, Barbara Koller Rupp, after she died. The Double Irish Chain may have originally been made in Germany and handed down. Another Double Irish Chain (with strawberry appliqué) on display was made by Katharina Schrag (Mrs. Peter A.) Wedel of Moundridge when she was 15, c. 1880. Katharina was born in Volhynia, Russia, and moved to Moundridge at age 9. The quilt is almost certainly the oldest existing quilt made by Russian Mennonite immigrants to Kansas.
An Indian Wedding Ring (a variation of the Double Wedding Ring) quilt donated by Art and Frieda Banman of North Newton was pieced by Mary Rempel Friesen and quilted by her mother, Augusta Ewert Rempel, in 1925 on a farm northeast of Hillsboro. A red-and-green appliquéd and pieced quilt that was featured in an issue of Quilting Today (2001) was made in 1957 by Anna Risser Goebel when she was 18 and living in Ohio. She married at that age and moved to Moundridge with her husband. Lorene K. Goering of North Newton donated a crib quilt that had been hand-made for Robert C. Goering, the son of General Conference Mennonite Church mission workers to China Sam J. and Pauline Goering.
"We are pleased that Mennonite families continue to choose Kauffman Museum as the repository for their family heirlooms, including handmade quilts," said Kauffman Museum director Rachel Pannabecker. "Every year, quilts made before 1950 are donated to our collection."
Guest curator for "The Gift of Quilting" is Karrie Peterson, a Bethel College senior from Pella, Iowa, who will graduate in May with a degree in history and social science. Graphic designer for the exhibit is Julie Miller, a 2005 Bethel graduate.
Peterson was in charge of selecting quilts, researching the history of each quilt and working on exhibit design. "It was a great experience," she said. "I was forced to use many different skills, from research to art to math."
The exhibit is designed to display the various "gifts" associated with quilting. When Mennonites arrived in North America, they picked up quilting and adopted it as a tradition and a gift to be shared with younger generations. Quilts are often given as gifts between friends and family members. They are also given as signs of appreciation.
"The ‘Friendship’ and ‘Deaconess’ quilts were made by many different women for one common reason--to show thanks," said Peterson. "Each woman made her own personal block, expressed herself in it and contributed it to the whole."
The Friendship quilt on display was made for Darlene R. Regier when she graduated from Hesston Academy in 1947. It is one of the most recently donated quilts, from 1947. A pieced triangle quilt, made by Anna Loganbill Garber of Versailles, Mo., was donated to Kauffman Museum when the museum came to Kansas in 1941. Anna’s grandson Joe Lehman was a student working his way through Bethel College during the Depression years, and she gave the quilt to show her appreciation to the college and support for its new museum. The Deaconess quilt was a gift by students graduating from the Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in the spring of 1952 to Sister Anna Marie Goertz, a native of Hillsboro, in appreciation for her dedication to teaching. Ruby Goertz of Goessel donated the quilt to Kauffman Museum.
"We hope that the themes of this exhibition will prompt people to think about the stories behind the quilts they own and to write them down for future generations," said Pannabecker. "The richest quilt history tells the story of quiltmakers and how they expressed themselves through fabric."
The exhibit is on display at the museum, located at Main and 27th Streets in North Newton on the Bethel College campus, through Jan. 27. It will be taken down for the Celebrate Kansas! weekend and re-hung Jan. 31-March 5. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and will also be closed Sunday, Dec. 25, and Sunday, Jan. 1. Admission to the quilt exhibit, which includes admission to the permanent exhibits "Of Land and People" and "Mirror of the Martyrs" as well, is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children ages 6-16.