Mountain Heritage Center

The Mountain Heritage Center has been collecting quilts and related textile tools of the Southern Appalachian region since 1975. Forty quilts dating from 1830 to 1975, are representative of the museum's regional collection of over 500 textile-related artifacts.

Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States

Museum Website

The Mountain Heritage Center

MHC website | View Quilts

The Mountain Heritage Center is a regional museum located on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. Established in 1975, the Mountain Heritage Center interprets current studies of Appalachia for the public. The Center's programs highlight traditional music and craft along with the culture and natural history of Appalachia. Major research exhibits have examined the migration of the Scotch-Irish people, handicraft traditions, and the travel of early naturalists. Through exhibitions, publications, educational programs and demonstrations, visitors discover the rich tradition of the mountains, see the Appalachian area from new perspectives, and come away with an enhanced understanding of its land and people.

The Mountain Heritage Center museum at Western Carolina University represents the realization of a service mission first articulated in the 1920s. Since its founding in 1889 as a community academy, Western Carolina University has been an authentic expression of the aspirations of southern Appalachian people for their children and their native culture. The idea of a museum of southern Appalachian culture materialized in the 1920s as the then Teachers College began to assemble a collection of artifacts and documents. Halted by the Depression, the project was renewed in the early 1950s when the Western Carolina Folklore Festival was instituted on campus to celebrate the region's traditional music. In 1967 the College became Western Carolina University, a comprehensive regional university with a broadly conceived mission of service to the people of the region. High priority was given to the study and preservation of the cultural heritage of the region, culminating in the establishment of the Mountain Heritage Center in 1975. The museum fills a need for regional museum services that falls between the narrow focus of local history museums and the more comprehensive work of the state museum, which tends to emphasize the non-mountain portions of the state.

The Mountain Heritage Center has acquired a regional collection of over 10,000 artifacts related to the cultural and natural history of the area. The collection and preservation of material artifacts and the lore associated with each item is essential to our purposes. The Mountain Heritage Center's collection of regional artifacts is particularly rich in agricultural implements, Native American Cherokee materials, logging and woodworking tools, transportation equipment, and textiles. Materials included in the Quilt Index project emphasize the Mountain Heritage Center's textile collection. They are representative of the types of quilts produced by families who lived and worked in western North Carolina from the 1830s to 1975.

The Mountain Heritage Center has a continually growing collection of regional quilts. A number of different projects help support and grow the quilt collection including:

  • The "Reading A Quilt" travel trunk project (originally funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Quilter's Guild of Dallas Inc., and the Asheville Quilt Guild) designed for K-8 classes uses the theme of quilts and quilt history to focus on the importance of material objects in the study of family, community, and regional history;
  • A Biennial exhibit "Airing of the Quilts and Quilt Discovery Day," featuring a selection of quilts from the textile collection that span the 19th and 20th centuries;
  • Frequent use of quilts in themed exhibits;
  • Demonstrations by quilting fiber artists;
  • Ongoing regional research of textiles.
Southern Appalachia has a rich cultural heritage—Native American, pioneer, traditional, and modern—characterized by a complex relationship with mainstream American culture that includes a variety of positive and negative stereotypes. The region offers a wealth of material and nonmaterial folk life that informs every project researched by the Mountain Heritage Center.

The on-going “Southern Appalachian Quilts” project includes the following components:
  • Examine each donated quilt gathering information as to dates of construction, pattern names, styles of quilting, regional characteristics, references to documented sources;
  • Document each quilt by gathering connections to cultural history, genealogy, oral history stories, and references to source materials;
  • Conserve each quilt by improving storage materials, repair or restoration techniques, and rotation and examination schedules.
The Mountain Heritage Center is open to the public free of charge. The museum is located on the first floor of WCU’s H. F. Robinson Administration Building. Daily visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday year-round, and Sundays 2-5 p.m. June through October. The Center observes a University holiday schedule. Information regarding new exhibits, programs and special events can be found by calling (828) 227-7129 or visiting

Project description provided by the Mountain Heritage Center.