Annual quilt show reveals symbolic patriotism of colonial life
MUNCY – The Muncy Historical Society continues to capture a piece of history and share it within its community. A perfect example was the 15th annual quilt show held on July 19 and 20. The two day event highlighted an exhibit that was part of a couple’s collection who have acquired some very valuable and historical quilts. Based on their last name and well known as the Christ collection, many of the quilts date back to the 1800s and project a symbolic wealth of patriotism that represents “the freedom and love of this nation.”
Pat and Arlan Christ spend many hours canvassing the East coast and are dedicated to preserving the legacy of these hand-made pieces of art. They try to acquire them, many from auctions and estate sales, and document the heritage of the families who had them. Much research is put into archiving the history of these bed quilts and coverlets so that the couple can share what they have learned.
The Christs held a lecture on Saturday afternoon, July 20, 2019, and explained much of their work at the 1st United Methodist Church in Muncy where the show was held. One of the quilts they showed was one titled “The Muncy Lyre.” It is dated back to 1840 from the Gahn family and hand stitched by a 14 year old male who lived in Sullivan County and taught at the Muncy Normal School. “It came from his family,” said Pat Christ. The original quilt measures 98 x101 at 9 stitches per inch and 16 blocks with the Muncy Lyre.
The informative session from the Christs explained how the “American Pride” was often represented in the work of these quilts. “Eagles and stars were put into the coverlets, which were popular with early Pennsylvania Germans,” said Arlan Christ. “The Pennsylvania quilts are always very colorful, compared to those of New England,” he addied.
Quilt piecing was done by hand using tiny stitches and some had as many as 10,000 pieces according to the Christs. The coverlets were done on looms. As they laid out each quilt over the banister along the front of the church, many listed the name, date, and origin. The women quilted a lot during the Civil War and incorporated the symolism of their patriotism into their textiles. “They added red, white and blue which makes them highly collectible. The red and white quilts are the most valuable.”
In the late 1800s women would compete to see how many pieces they could put in each quilt. Some pieces were only one quarter inch wide. “They were two sided too, and the amazing workmanship was very pristine,” said the Christs. They made them for special occasions. “They would put them out, then bring them back out again.”
In 1933, Pennsylvania chose the Mountain Laurel for the state flower and some colonial history quilts have used this. In the early 1900s, quilts were entered into local fairs to win “premium ribbons.” It was very competitive in Pennsylvania. A majority of these quilts were discovered in the Lehigh Valley and Allentown area which displayed much community and ethnic pride. Many had family names stitched onto the quilts and some had dates and insignias hidden in them.
A prized quilt from the Christ collection came from Delaware and was made by a steamboat captain’s wife. Captain Andrew sailed on the Chesapeake and lived in Baltimore, and his wife made the quilt for their wedding in 1849. She made the 25 block quilt while joining her husband on the steamboat. Measuring 10 ft. by 10 ft. the quilt is worth thousands and was sold for “perpetual care” to the Spencer family who were shipbuilders and acquired the Captain’s belongings and house in 1867.
The Christs shared the quilt at the end of their presentation and audience members were able to view it up close to see the intricacy of this fascinating piece of textile art.
Also on display were challenge quilts made by local quilt artists. Rhonda Freezer of Hughesville took a first prize ribbon for her themed quilt with the Bethlehem star. The show was juried featuring two categories, wall hangings and bed quilts.
On July 18th a star embroidery workshop was held where participants learned how to make the famous German stumpwork, a 120 year old technique using wool and recycled fabrics.
The program was made possible in part through the PA Council on the Arts and the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau. It was also a fundraiser for the Muncy Historical Society.