Art of Quilting Column February 08, 2009

History connects quilts to Lincoln legacy

Twoscore and nine years ago, I first learned of the Gettysburg Address. As a fourth-grader, I was expected to memorize and recite that famous speech by our 16th president.

My class also was tested on our ability to write those eloquent words, which began

“Fourscore and seven years ago,” with correct spelling and proper punctuation.

I remember being extremely proud of myself when I was the first of my peers to accomplish that task.

My teacher presented me with a little ceramic statue, which she referred to as an Oscar. I didn’t know what an Oscar was at that time, but years later I figured out that the Academy Award nominations must come out about the same time as President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Many generations have discovered Honest Abe in grade school, and I was no different, cutting out black silhouettes of his profile and hearing how he read books at night by the light of a log cabin fireplace.

Like so many, I’ve come to admire the tall, bearded man in the stovepipe hat who freed the slaves and preserved the Union. This Thursday, our nation will observe the 200th anniversary of his birth.

But the true Lincoln enthusiast in the family is my husband, Joe, who owns scores of books about this enduring hero and absorbs trivia about Lincoln like a sponge.

Through the years, we’ve visited Ford’s Theatre and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as the Lincoln home, the old state Capitol building and the Lincoln Burial Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill.

In a family scrapbook, I placed a photograph of Joe rubbing the bronze nose of Lincoln’s bust outside the tomb. It’s a tradition for visitors to do so, and superstition has it that such an action brings good luck.

A couple of years ago, we returned to Springfield and toured the new, state-of-the-art Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. Inside, they’ve built a replica of the log cabin where Abe grew up, complete with a patchwork quilt.

Lincoln’s childhood is thought to be the inspiration for one of the most loved and most reproduced quilt patterns of all time — the log cabin block. It consists of narrow strips of fabric (or logs) sewn in sequence around a middle square. A red center is considered the hearth of the cabin home. The pattern became popular in America around the time of the Civil War and remains a favorite today.

After touring most of the Lincoln museum, my husband and I had lunch at the on-site cafeteria. That’s where I saw the most striking log cabin quilt ever.

It was under Plexiglas on the wall, its fabric “logs” cut from colorful batiks, and after admiring the blocks for a minute, I noticed the silhouettes of President Lincoln’s face subtly appearing in the design. It was eerie and fascinating.

Unfortunately, no information was available on the quilt, and I didn’t get a photograph of it.

But since that time, I’ve done some digging for its origins. The title of the quilt is “Logging Lincoln,” and it was made by 85-year-old Marian Brockschmidt of Springfield. You can read about her in an online interview at Save Our Stories sponsored by The Alliance for American Quilts, http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org.

I only wish a pattern was available for it.

Across the country, many people are gearing up for Lincoln’s bicentennial with special events. At the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky., a contest exhibit marking the occasion opened Friday and runs through April 7.

The contest was part of the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Expo last summer in Nashville, Tenn.

“Since Kentucky is the actual birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, our state has been very involved in the Lincoln bicentennial celebration,” says Bonnie Browning, executive show director for the Paducah society. “So we decided we should include that special category.”

Contestants were asked to rekindle America’s early days with quilts made from traditional blocks named for Lincoln or blocks that related to Kentucky, Indiana or Illinois, the states where he lived. Original quilts inspired by his quotes or writings also were accepted.

The top three winning quilts are featured here and incorporate a variety of blocks, although none is the traditional Log Cabin pattern.

Quilts made in Lincoln’s time mostly were articles of necessity. Isn’t it great that today we can make quilts as art pieces to commemorate a great leader?

Happy birthday, Abraham.


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