Piecing together history at the Animas Museum

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Mary Fagerberg, visiting from Greeley, said she still has a quilt her grandmother made out of leftover wool she used to make suits for Fagerberg’s grandfather. Fagerberg told the story while viewing the quilts displayed at the Animas Museum.

It’s billed as “Where History Meets Art,” but the title should probably be “Where Herstory Meets Art: An Homage to the Women of Southwest Colorado.”

The Animas Museum’s new quilt exhibit features most of its collection of 18 quilts, which were either made in the area or brought here. They cover about a century, from the late 1800s to 1980s, with everything from the utilitarian to ornate.

Quilts tell the story of women’s lives and times as well as displaying their creative talent.

Heather Lundquist served as the guest curator, with Susan Hilton Jones assisting. (Jones was busy this spring – she guest curated the museum’s other summer 2012 exhibit “Forged by Flame,” a history of fire in our area, very apt with this scary summer we’re having. But I digress.)

Every quilt tells a story, but most stories are incomplete. Two doll quilts were donated by Judith McDaniel Harris. They probably belonged to Barbara Turner McDaniel, who played with them in the 1930s, but the maker of both is unknown. The smaller one was used with her doll Carolyn Virginia. (This is a great example of the mysteries surrounding many of the quilts. We know the doll’s name but not the maker’s.)

The exhibit includes a few crazy quilts, made using scraps of fine material, so they’re deteriorating a little, and full of embroidery and symbols. One, possibly made by Sara Schafer, was rescued by Lola Davis from Schafer’s trash. Shafer’s husband owned or operated a mine up Junction Creek and served as La Plata County sheriff at one time. Viewers are asked to play a little game with this quilt. Can you find a frog? A bumblebee? A cat?

The quilt even makes a bit of a political statement, campaigning for the Grover Cleveland-James Hendricks ticket in 1884.

Helen Ruth Aspaas donated another crazy quilt, this one made by some of her family members, Annetta Johnson Aspaas, Minnie Aspaas, Sadie Price Aspaas and Lucy B. Gray. The Aspaas family was one of the first to settle in the Animas Valley after the signing of the Brunot Treaty in 1873. In an ironic twist, the fire exhibit includes information about the loss of the trading post in Ignacio founded by Hans Aspaas to fire. His name is embroidered on the quilt, as are the family’s pet’s names, including that perennial favorite, Spot.

Helen Ruth Aspaas also donated a comforter-style quilt once used a cover the ranch cats’ winter quarters and a double wedding-ring quilt made for Laura Belle Boyce by her sister Ruby after Laura Belle married Carl Aspaas in 1946.

Joan Isgar Kellogg donated two quilts from her family, both made by Helen Elizabeth Hetherington Isgar before 1936. Born in Toronto in 1863, Hetherington Isgar married Durango businessman George Isgar in 1889, and she was known for always having a quilting frame set up in her house.

Margaret Ptolemy’s roots go way back in the area and so do her gifts to the museum. She donated a crazy quilt that had belonged to her Aunt Cora VirginiaCarpenter, which was probably a gift from Carpenter’s grandmother’s sister Virginia Hiltman in England.

Ptolemy also donated a treadle sewing machine from circa 1914 that is a work of art itself. The sewing machine belonged to Cecilia Bobbie Ptolemy, the wife of Silverton Mayor Robert Ptolemy. Family members also used it in Mancos, Cortez and Durango.

The Animas Museum has fine examples of signature quilts in its collection. Alix Ferguson, an AmeriCorps volunteer, conducted a great deal of research about the signatories.

Victoria S. Day, the widow of Durango Democrat Publisher David Day and a force in her own right, signed not one, not two, but four squares on one quilt, which may have been created as a fundraiser.

Another friendship quilt was created by the ladies of the Florida Grange in the 1930s. It belonged to Avery (Foster) Brown, donor Marie Spencer Wells’ grandmother.

Jeanne Park donated an unfinished quilt top, and several quilts’ provenance (that’s history in museum talk) may never be known.

The most modern quilt in the exhibit was created by the La Plata Cowbelles in 1980 for the centennial of Durango. (The official date of the founding was in 1881, when the town incorporated, but Durango was a hopping place by the end of 1880.) It includes scenes from our history and used the Cowbelles’ traditional brown and cream color scheme, the same the group uses for its annual fundraising brand quilts.

On Curator of Collections Jan Poster’s wish list for the quilt collection? One made of flour sacks, one of denim and one of the Cowbelles’ brand quilts, preferably one of the early ones.

This was the first exhibit at the museum sponsored by other organizations, including a grant from the Colorado Quilting Council, Hi Fashion Sewing, the Durango Sewing Center, the Durango Quilt Co., Fresh Off the Press and Yarn Durango.

Postler showed me the meticulous care it took to mount the show with the delicate textiles, and it was a labor of love by a number of volunteers. (Nearly 500 volunteer hours in May alone.)

Those committed volunteers included Carol Bentley, Kathy Chamberlain, Charlie DiFerdinando, Cathy Duggan, Patricia Joy, Orianna Keating, ArielleLiakat, Robert Lundquist, Joyce Morton, Kathy McKenzie, Carole Morain, Linda Mount, Sheila Niblick, Bill Postler, Shar Short, Kevin Smith, Susan Smith and four young men from the Fort Lewis College football team, who carried a very heavy case up some steep stairs.

The new light-emitting diode light bulbs, courtesy of the La Plata Electric Round Up Foundation, really make the colors in the quilts pop, and the schoolhouse-style window shades in the classroom are courtesy of what Executive Director Carolyn Bowra calls the “Shady Characters.” History’s full of ’em, after all.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and it’s located at the corner of West Second Ave. and 31st St.

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These folks are grateful to be celebrating another year – David Downs, LorisRank, Tanner Smith, Ross Turpin, Jan Nesset, Mary Roberts, Clark Kepple, JillWiegert, Lucy Martinez, Hannah Buck, Brian Van Mols, Suzanne Zerbe, Kayte Barnes, Mike Dalenberg, Linda Tikalsky, Duane Danielson, Henry Bell and Don Magill.

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If you’re looking for a stress reliever, check out the talented ladies, Traci Lyn Thomas, Erika Beardsley, Jessica Jane Hagemeister, Danni Lyn Parker, Jeannie Wheeldon and Rachel Saul Pollack, performing in “Beehive” on Friday and Saturday nights at the Durango Arts Center. The music is sing-alongable, and Diane Welle’s costumes are fantastic.

At the opening for sponsors and donors, producer Diane Panelli did her research and provided a snack table full of foods introduced in the 1960s. Bugles or Frosted Mini-Wheats, anyone? The Bit O-Honeys were particularly popular.

(The honey-flavored taffy with almond bits was actually introduced in 1924, but who can forget the ’60s jingle: “It’s the chewy candy you don’t have to chew, just put it in your mouth ’til the nuts pop through, Bit O-Honey goes a long, long way.”)

Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for DAC members and $18 for students and are available at the center, 802 East Second Ave., or online at www.durangoarts.org.

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Celebrating the last of the June anniversaries and the first of July are Charles and Ann Karnes, John and Shanna Stordahl, John and Louise Grayson, Carl and Shelly Hotter, Joe T. and Peggy Herrera, Larry and Margaret Hjermstad, Don and Laura Yale and Chad and Ann Tidwell.

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