The Quilt of the Graveyard.Painting pets, places, and people is what I do...for the most part. Sometimes I do things completely different so as to keep my world a learning place. I have a real need to explore all kinds of creative endeavors from painting to building fairy houses with my granddaughter to making quilts and cooking.
The project I am sharing now is not about pets but about places and people--people from a long time ago, very much like many of us today and in some ways very different but with a shared insight.
The story that accompanies this project started with someone mentioning their love of quilts which was a passion we shared. This individual said the most unusual quilt she had seen was one with tiny coffins appliqued in the center. My interest was greatly peaked but soon forgotten. Weeks later I was thumbing through an old quilt book in the library and when I laid the book down the pages fell open to the Graveyard Quilt--with tiny coffins appliqued in the center.Under the photo was the name of the museum where the quilt was located. It was the Kentucky Historical Society where I had spend hours in my college years.
I called the museum asking about the Graveyard Quilt which was unfortunately not on exhibit due to poor condition. The wonderful ladies at the museum offered to send me a book about the quilt written by Linda Otto Lipsett.When I received the book I was mesmerized. I read it from cover to cover. The author subtitled the book An American Pioneer Saga and it truly was a journey. After reading the story I decided to make as close a copy of the quilt as I could. It took about 4 months to complete using reproduction 19th century fabric, dyeing the muslin pieces for the backing(because fabric was very narrow in the early American years) with walnuts and hand quilting the entire quilt. I have won quilt awards and told the story about Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell many, many times. A few people have found the story unpleasant and disturbing, however many more have found compassion and empathy and even personal insight from the true story of one woman's efforts to deal with a personal tragedy.
This pioneer family of Shadrach and Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell lived in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. They had eleven children as they emigrated from east to west. Two of Elizabeth's sons died along the way. She fashioned a quilt top with eleven squares across the top representing her eleven children. In the center she pieced a graveyard with places for tiny coffins quilted within an appliqued cemetery.The cemetery had fencing resplendent with embroidered roses and vines. As a memorial to the two lost children she sewed small brown coffins.The rest of the family was represented with coffins along the border. The plan was for the coffins to be moved to the cemetery as the family member departed this world. While this quilt was an expression of a heartbroken mother it also served as a birth and death record for the family.
Mourning customs have changed drastically over the years and in today's world we seem to pay less and less attention to the physical nature of deceased loved ones. People move from place to place and look toward the future more than cherishing the past. But for those out there that enjoy a good tale this story about Elizabeth Mitchell's struggle to remember her dear children and how she used her creativity and resources while carving out an American saga is one worth knowing. You can find more about the quilt and other objects at www.history.ky.gov/objects.
Feel free to comment or ask questions about the quilt-I love to hear from you.