2008-03-13 / News

Family quilt finds home with historical society

By Michaela Kennedy

Jo-Ann Head displays a historic quilt that her family recently donated to the Jamestown Historical Society. The quilt is two quilts layered on each other and sewn together and has been through four generations of Jamestown families. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Jo-Ann Head displays a historic quilt that her family recently donated to the Jamestown Historical Society. The quilt is two quilts layered on each other and sewn together and has been through four generations of Jamestown families. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Quilting is a traditional pastime across many world cultures, and breathes new life into long-forgotten dry goods. The spreads created offer families and communities an artistic chronicle of generations gone by. Overlay artists, and those that understand the tradition, agree that a quilt is the ultimate example of reuse.

The Jamestown Historical Society recently received a quilt that has lived on the island through four generations. Before the owner died two years ago, she requested that, if no one in her family wanted it, the relic be given to a local preservation society, preferably in town.

Jo-Ann and Alton "Bud" Head III inherited the quilt when the previous heir, Caroline Brayman Hull, Bud's mother, passed on two years ago. Jo- Ann speaks fondly of her mother-inlaw, and shares her love of history. "Bud's mother was an antique fanatic," Jo-Ann recollects. Since no surviving relatives in Caroline's family wanted the quilt, Jo-Ann jumped at the chance to receive it. "I thought it was an interesting quilt, and still in pretty good shape," she said.

Jo-Ann claims she is not much of a quilter herself, but loves history. She showed the quilt to friends and other quilters, who also noted the artwork. A neighbor, who spends summers in Jamestown and is a member of the Rhode Island Quilters Association, revealed to Jo-Ann that the textile was layered. "I don't think Caroline knew it was a quilt upon a quilt," Jo-Ann muses. The neighbor recommended giving it to the historical society. "If it's unusable, then it should go to a historical society," Jo-Ann said, recalling the friend's advice.

Jo-Ann enjoyed the stories Caroline used to share with her about her artifacts. She remembers the first time she noticed the quilt, made from old dresses and other cloth fragments, laying on an upstairs bed in her mother-in-law's house. "It meant something to her because she was named after her grandmother," Jo-Ann remembers.

Jo-Ann and her husband now live in Caroline's house on North Main Road, a stone's throw from the farmhouse where the original quilter resided. "Caroline loved her grandmother. She could look out the window and see her grandmother's light on over on Rosemary Lane," Jo-Ann said.

Rosemary Enright, president of the JHS, commented on the beauty of the treasured addition to the island's collection of antiquities. "We were delighted to get an artifact that is not just from a long-time family on the island, but that demonstrates the craftsmanship that went into it," she said.

The collection contains several types of textiles, from an 1890 wedding dress to the more recent designs of Fools' Rules T-shirts. "Textiles can be difficult to maintain," Enright adds.

Despite the difficulty, the historical society makes every effort to save the precious soft goods. Together with other preserved local textiles, the comforter has found haven in the basement vault of the town hall. No plans have been set yet to display the quilt, but it will be catalogued and eventually displayed in an exhibit where it is appropriate, Enright said.

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