Wheel of Time, circa 1880 red and white hand quilted quilt made by Mary Tennessee “Polly” Copeland Neal.
Gift of LeAnne Traybsza, TTU-H2018-056-001. Image courtesy of the Museum of Texas Tech University
Oklahoma Quilters Insure Family Quilt Gets Museum Care
By Marian Ann J. Montgomery, Ph.D.,
Curator of Clothing and Textiles, the Museum of Texas Tech University
The dream of every curator of quilts is to be contacted by someone offering to donate an absolutely beautiful quilt for the collection. An e-mail of that sort came into the Museum’s general e-mail mailbox on April 23, 2018, while I was in the Netherlands looking at their quilted treasures.
When the pictures arrived I knew immediately that we wanted the quilt for our museum collection. It took some back and forth of e-mails before we worked out the details, and honestly, for a time I wasn’t sure we would be able to accept the quilt because the donor hid address and phone number information that we need for doing the gift agreement and other paperwork. I was corresponding with someone about a quilt and wondering if it was somehow acquired in a manner that was not quite above board since I wasn’t getting contact information. I’m sure then when she reads article she will laugh, but along with taking a month before she shared her mailing address, at times I wondered if the donation would truly be made.
The day the quilt arrived it was far better than the pictures we had received. There are a few small stains, but they do not detract from the overall beauty of the quilt. When you look closely at the quilt, it is even more magnificent. The blocks are set on point and the feather quilting around the blocks makes the quilt look as if the blocks were put together with curved piecing.
Detail of Wheel of Time quilt showing the curved feather quilting. Wheel of Time, circa 1880 red and white hand quilted quilt made by Mary Tennessee “Polly” Copeland Neal. Gift of LeAnne Traybsza, TTU-H2018-056-001. Image courtesy of the Museum of Texas Tech University.
As always with any donation, I ask questions about the maker and was very fortunate to find that it was a family quilt made by the great great grandmother of the donor. The family supplied an image and a print out of the information on the donor from Ancestry.com. What a gift! This valuable information enables the quilt to be a real tribute to the maker herself.
Mary “Polly” Copeland Neal, maker of the red and white Wheel of Time quilt.
Image courtesy of LeAnne Traybsza.
Mary Tennessee “Polly” Copeland Neal, maker of the red and white quilt, was born in 1858 in Overton, Tennessee. She married William Thomas Neal in Overton Tennessee on November 19th in 1882. She gave birth to three sons who lived to adulthood and one daughter who died six months later after birth. Polly Neal died (in 1889) eleven days after the birth of her fourth child (a son), most likely due to complications during the birth. She lived her entire life in the Overton, Tennessee area and where she created this beautiful masterpiece. I’ve touched base with the Tennessee quilt historians to see how this quilt might fit into the history of Tennessee. We forget how difficult childbirth was for women in the 19th century, until we learn about what happened to a particular quilt maker. That final son left Tennessee at the age of 14 and eventually settled in Geary, Oklahoma. It is through his family that the quilt descended.
After I saw photos of the quilt I shared with the donor images of a similar quilt (on the left) in our Museum’s collection, made in Colorado City in West Texas about 1929 by Olive Pearl Wigley Price. Olive Pearl likely got the pattern for her quilt from Comfort Magazine which was published in Augusta, Maine from 1888 to 1942 with the motto, “The key to happiness and success in over a million and a quarter homes – Devoted to art, literature, science and the home circle.” The audience for the magazine was rural Americans and was a source for quilt patterns. Olive Pearl’s quilt layout is somewhat different with the stars, but the patterns are similar. It is wonderful to have them both together here for comparison.
In correspondence as we wrapped up the donation process, LeAnne Traybsza said, “My mother I have been quilters earlier in our lives . . .. I just wanted to preserve the quilt so that it is not destroyed by someone who did not appreciate the workmanship in its quilting. I felt that gifting it to a museum was my best chance at its preservation for future generations.” Truly a woman after my own heart! That is why I work in museums and have worked so hard to develop the quilt collection at the Museum of Texas Tech University—so that the wonderful workmanship and these objects of beauty, which were so important in their maker’s lives, can be preserved for future generations. Thank you to all the quilt guilds and quilt related businesses for all you have done as a group to ensure preservation of our art form. Oh and by the way, LeAnne did ask for visitation rights to the quilt. Which of course we always grant… with a little advance notice. I look forward to meeting LeAnn.
Learn more about the Museum of Texas Tech University Textile Collections.