Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Richness of Quilts!

Infinite Variety Quilt Exhibit of Joanna Rose's Treasures

Today on the Harplist, Ray Pool posted about Infinite Varieties, a wonderful exhibit of 651 red and white quilts, collected by Mrs. Joanna S. Rose. Spanning three centuries, they were displayed in an armory in Manhattan from March 25-30, as an 80th birthday present from her husband. Not only will you be able to see them, but you can also listen to Ray's beautiful harp music, three pieces from his "Crystal Spring" album and published collection. And this is what they said to me:

           Red & White

Against the darkness hang squares, rectangles of cloth
stars    snowflakes   stripes   stylilzed flowers   slanted linked chains
   geometric shapes   a spinster and her wheel, the spindle full
--someone had to spin  the thread, drawing up the pluck,
          winding it smooth and even,
as someone had to dye it in a kettle, adding the mordant to fix the color,
as someone wrung out and dried the cloth, made it into
           clothing, curtains, household goods.

Three hundred years hang there, lighted from above, yet so much more:
do those who came know? Do they sense the ghostly hands
           of all the women of those years,
who cut up the scraps for yet one more use,
      one more attempt to keep those they loved warm?
Mothers, grannies, aunts, daughters, neighbors, friends,
whether gathered around the frame,
or one lone woman arranging
--on a bed? On the table? On a board?--pieces of a petticoat,
a wedding-dress, a baby's first gown, a husband's shirt-tail,
this bit here, and that over there, until it satisfied something deep within:
yes, just this way.
Did she stitch her longing for children,
    for a husband gone to seek work or fight?
    The grief of loss, hope for crops and change and birth?
Did she hurry through chores and dishes and needful mending,
eager for a few minutes
in her clean "company" apron,
to stitch by candle or firelight or sunshine in a window?
Did she put a pricked finger in her mouth,
    afraid it'd stain brown against the red?
Did she smooth the white part, carefully tufting,
swirling stitches to hold batting and backing
against the quilt-top? Did she heat the iron on the stove, pressing smooth
before folding it away in a chest or laid on the bed?
How many slept under them? How many dreams and prayers hover above them?
Red is warmer cloth, they say. It stands for bravery, for blood, for love.
White is pure, cool, unblemished. Clouds and the froth of waves, and snow.

Detail--see the swirl of stitching?
  Delight in the crafting, delight in the doing, delight in the seeing,
all shared with so many
last of all because Joanna saw and kept their beauty, whitely
a gift to her and all those coming from her husband's love

Red and white, white and red
will any decide to try their own?

                                           Crystal music floats in the air
Harp & angel quiltblock
not part of the exhibit!
springing from delight         
within the heart, within the stitches,
a cornucopia of caring
down the years

1st draft,
March 30, 2011

Oh, the stories in quilts and other crafted items around us!

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