The Great Western Virginia Cover-Up: Historic Quilts & Bedcovers exhibition presents more than thirty bedcovers—spreads, quilts, coverlets, blankets, and a rare bed rug—made in western Virginia between 1800 and 1950. Organized by the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum of Ferrum College, the show examines patterns, methods, and fabrics passed down through generations of Virginia families. The bedcovers displayed are the survivors—the fragile remains of stitching and cloth that did not get ruined by their functional use.
The exhibition features bedcovers with familiar patterns, such as Flying Geese, Log Cabin, Pinwheel, Virginia Rose, Whitework, Crazy, and Pieced. There is an 1833 bed rug on display, one of only five surviving bed rugs known today. It also includes printed cotton animal feed sacks used for making everything from clothing to quilts to dish towels, an 1830s doll bed, a wooden quilting frame, a child’s sewing machine, a chicken-shaped thread holder, and a pin cushion in the form of a woman’s shoe.
Many of the pieces displayed include information about the creators and/or owners. Highlights include a fan quilt made by ballad singer Texas Gladden of Roanoke County, who was recorded by famed musicologist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress; a quilt presented to Reverend James Goode Lane Hash in 1921 by the women of Patrick County for his work as a advocate for the people of the mountains (including marrying couples at their mailbox and testifying as a character witness for moonshiners); and a cover embroidered with the name Eli Metzger, a still-unknown man thought to be the possible future husband of creator Barbara Ulrey Roat until she married someone else in 1892.
The VHS is currently the only site other than the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum scheduled to host the show before the materials are returned to private hands.
I can’t think of a better reason to visit a museum than to see a good quilt show. The pictures in books or online just don’t do these pieces of art justice, particularly with regard to size and surface detail. Quilt work can be a very strong art form. The quilts on display at the VHS have every bit as much power as a twentieth century painting that utilizes only shapes and colors. In fact, I would argue that some of the covers in this show are as strong—or stronger—works of art than many of those paintings.