Western Pennsylvania Quilt Documentation Project

Western Pennsylvania Quilt Documentation Project

Overview: The Western Pennsylvania Quilt Documentation Project was started in 2009 by Brenda Applegate, Executive Director of the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation (BCHRLF) and independent quilt researcher, Jan Rodgers. Recording quilts as tangible evidence of women's creativity and history, this project is documenting quilts that currently reside in ten counties in the southwestern corner of the state: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland.

The project will continue to schedule documentation days in communities in these counties on a regular basis for at least five years. At that time, the co-directors will review the data collected to date and will publish a summary of their findings that should yield a snapshot of the two-hundred year history of quilting activity in this region.

Beginnings: The two founders met in early 2008 via the internet after attending a local quilt-themed event at the regional history center in Pittsburgh that had a contemporary focus rather than an historical one. Both felt that a history center had a responsibility to incorporate and celebrate the history of quilt making as evidence of women's creativity. They both joined the volunteer planning committee for the Heinz History Center's annual Quilters' Weekends at that time. Applegate had just received state-wide acclaim for her "Windows Through History" educational program for girls. The success of that program led the PA History and Museum Commission to recommend in early 2008 that BCHRLF should increase its programming focus on women's history.

In October, 2008, Rodgers met quilt historian Sue Reich of Connecticut at the annual AQSG seminar in Columbus, OH. She told Reich, who is also a native of Pittsburgh, PA, that she was working on a master's in quilt history at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, but didn't have specific plans for how she would use the degree once it was completed. Reich asked Rodgers when she was going to document the quilts of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. With her future research direction sketched out, Rodgers returned home and contacted Applegate, telling her that they would both be busy for the next few years. Quilt documentation was an ideal fit for the Foundation's new direction.

Process: Two years and 700 quilts into the process, the co-directors have found dozens of enthusiastic volunteers and hundreds of quilt owners and quilt makers who are spreading the word and building a community of women and men who are bringing the extensive quilting activity of the region to light. Using the documentation model developed at UNL, documentation days were begun in March of 2009 using a two-page data collection form. It became apparent that the more information that could be gathered in each session, the more comprehensive a view of regional quilting activity could be drawn. The form now used incorporates all sections of the Quilt Index' data collection form, arranged to complement our project's interview and assessment format. Volunteer training sessions have been held to acquaint participants with the format and to share the project leaders' knowledge of fabrics and fibers with interested volunteers. Volunteer roles have been described and defined so that participants can fill roles which match their personal interests and activity levels.

Scope of Project: The founders determined that all hand-made quilts would be documented, no matter when they were made. They felt that collecting the stories of contemporary quilt makers was as significant as collecting the known history of older quilts. The choice to include all ten counties of the southwestern corner of the state was ambitious, but it was felt that it would provide a more accurate view of regional quiltmaking history. Although Pittsburgh is the urban center of the region, there are vital and historic towns in the surrounding counties which had strong quiltmaking traditions.

Future: The original work plan allotted five years to collect data and photographic evidence of the quilts of the region. After that period, the directors would assess the data and summarize the findings in a published format to be determined. Continuing documentation activities were sketched out because the project scope includes contemporary quilts and it was further anticipated that quilts would continue to be identified beyond the initial five year time-frame. As we begin to enter the accumulated data into the Quilt Index in 2011, the project is still operating on the original timeline.

Acknowledgements: The project is generously funded by the McCarl Foundation.

--Brenda Applegate.

The Western Pennsylvania Quilt Documentation Project includes collections from these museums:
Burtner (Stone) House
Baltzer Meyer Historical Society
Fayette City Historical Society
Historical Society of Upper St. Claire
Little Beaver Historical Society
Saxonburg Museum
Sewickley Valley Historical Society
West Overton Museum
Westmoreland County Historical Society
Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Project Website

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