Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers

Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers

Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers

This exhibition of fifteen quilts celebrates the work of the Nebraska Quilt Project team - pioneering individuals who preserved an invaluable record of life in our state, told through the history of cherished quilts. 

Twenty-five years ago a dedicated group of 21 volunteers set out to document Nebraska quilts that remained in private hands, fearful that the rich heritage inherent in the family quilts would be lost forever if not documented. The Nebraska quilt project team, in numerous day-long events, collected information on 1,557 quiltmakers who made 3216 quilts between 1870 and 1989. Led by director Frankie Best, the group recorded family stories, photographed each quilt, and gathered background on the quiltmakers, including gender, occupation, ethnicity, religious background, education, and the occasion that prompted a quilt’s creation.

Shortly after the results of the state survey were published in “Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers,” an award-winning volume, Ardis and Robert James began looking for a home for their outstanding collection of nearly 1000 quilts. The James looked to their home state of Nebraska, recognized as a leader in the movement to document quilt history. Impressed by the quality of the research featured in “Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers” and the level of grass-roots support found among Nebraskans, they proposed that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was an ideal home for their quilts. The Jameses approached Dr. Patricia Crews, professor in the The Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design at the University, who was the academic advisor to the project team and co-editor the Nebraska book and asked if the University would be interested in accepting a donation of their collection. In 1997, the Center was formed, as the first academic center devoted to the study of quilts across time and space.

The documentation and research begun by the Nebraska Quilt Project team paved the way for the formation of the International Quilt Museum.  The museum today is home to a number of the quilts that were featured in the book “Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers.” The quilts were donated by individuals who were inspired by the survey project volunteers to recognize the importance of preserving their family quilt and its provenance

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Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Log Cabin – Barn Raising
Made by Abba Jane Blackstone
Curtis, Nebraska, c. 1910
Cotton, 80″ × 75″
Gift of Mary Oba

Abba Jane Blackstone’s life was governed by her strict Methodist beliefs. The parallels between her straight and narrow lifestyle and her quilting are embodied by the Log Cabin quilt pattern. The blocks are sewn in a Barn Raising setting that, according to Blackstone’s greatgranddaughter, she made
exclusively throughout her life.

Despite her years of practice, one block at the top of the quilt is sewn in the wrong position, interrupting the usual perfect symmetry of Log Cabin quilts. While this was likely a mistake, Blackstone purposely made the blocks on either side of the quilt narrower by eliminating two rows of strips, which resulted
in a rectangular quilt rather than a traditional square Log Cabin quilt.

Princess Feather
Made by Rebecca Gouffin Wilson and Isabella Irene Wilson Rhodes
North English, Iowa
c. 1865
Cotton, 85″ × 85″
Gift of Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow

Mother and daughter, Rebecca and Isabella ‘Belle’ Wilson were born in Ohio, but moved to Iowa, where this quilt was made. According to the family lore, the women were making this quilt together in 1865 when a rider delivered news that President Lincoln had been assasinated. Though the Wilsons lived far from populated areas in the Iowa countryside, they followed contemporary fashion when making the red and green Princess Feather quilt. Possibly family and friends in Ohio kept them abreast of popular trends. The Princess Feather or Prince’s Feather pattern may be derived from the Prince of
Wales’s emblem that featured three tall feathers rising through a coronet. Americans also used Prince’s Feather as the common name for the feathery fronded amaranth plant. A design with a possible British lineage was a fitting choice for a mother and daugher of English heritage.

In about 1871 Belle married John Rhodes; by 1875 the couple had settled in the Beatrice, Nebraska, area, having carried the treasured quilt with them.

Pineapple Log Cabin
Made by Carol Jane Shaffer Dunklau
Lincoln, Nebraska, 1982
Cotton, 106″ × 83″
Gift of Carol Shaffer Dunklau and E.S. “Bud” Dunklau

In 1974, Carol Dunklau took her mother-in-law to an exhibition at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery thinking perhaps quilting would interest her as a hobby. Instead, it was Carol who became a prolific quiltmaker. This quilt took the “Best of Show” award at the 1983 State Fair and was a featured quilt at the Sheldon’s “Woven Threads” exhibition in 1986.  

The dramatic Pineapple pattern is created with a combination of black printed fabrics contrasted by tan, khaki and green prints. Dunklau retained the tradition of using a red square in the center of each block.

Made by Louise Howey
Lincoln, Nebraska, 1945
Cotton, 96″ × 75″
Gift of Louise Howey

Lousie Howey used a complex pattern to make this quilt—it is a variation on two “Nebraska” patterns, one published in the “Nancy Cabot” column of the Chicago Tribune newspaper in the 1930s and the other in Hearth and Home magazine. The pattern was rarely made because of the detailed piecing and
complicated quilting. Each of the 20-inch blocks include 180 pieces. The quilting includes several motifs including stars, bars, squares, and diamonds.

Louise’s dedication to the complexity of this pattern was mirrored by her tireless work in promoting quiltmaking in Nebraska. Introduced to quilting by her motherin-law, Louise developed a passion for quilting quickly. Louise was the first president of the Lincoln Quilters Guild, founded in 1973. She participated in Quilt Symposium ‘77, organized by the Lincoln Quilters Guild to bring together quilters
from around the country. Louise was inducted into the Nebraska Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 1991 for her lifetime achievements and significance to the heritage of quiltmaking in Nebraska. She is recognized
as a Nebraska Treasure in the book Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers.

Made by Mary Campbell Ghormley
Lincoln, Nebraska, 1986
Cotton, 96″ × 71″
Gift of Roger and Mary Campbell Ghormley

Mary Ghormley was inspired by an image of an 1830s quilt on the cover of a catalog from the American Museum near Bath, England. With the help of her husband Roger, they drafted templates to complete the complex design. After more than 360 hours of quilting, Mary’s Mariner’s Compass won the Best of Lot award in the senior citizens’ quilt division of the 1987 Nebraska State Fair.

Mary has been a longtime contributer to quiltmaking in Nebraska. After winning Best in Show for her first entry in the Nebraska State Fair in 1970, Mary began teaching quilting to people around the Lincoln area. She was integral in the formation of the Lincoln Quilters Guild and served as its second president. In 1987, Mary had a one woman show at the Elder Gallery at Nebraska Wesleyan University and was inducted into the Nebraska Quilter’s Hall of Fame. Ghormley was a featured Nebraska Treasure in the book Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers.

The Promise
Made by Paulette Aileen Suder Peters
Elkhorn, Nebraska, 1986
Cotton, 72″ × 72″
Gift of the artist, 2005.011.0001

“The Promise” was a finalist in the Great American Quilt contest hosted by the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City in 1986, which commmemorated the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. Peters’s quilt represents the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty by embodying the hopeful spirit of new immigrants gazing across the American landscape. Peters used several techniques to focus the eye
of the viewer towards the landscape including both the pointed hand of one of the silhouettes as well as the vertical quilting lines of the pier pointing to the future.

Star of the Heartland
Made by members of the Omaha Quilters Guild
Omaha, Nebraska, 1986
Cotton, 98″ × 97″
Gift of the Omaha Quilters Guild, 2007.026.0001

Made by the Omaha Quilters Guild, this quilt represents both the city and the guild. The Omaha skyline is silhouetted in the center and framed by a series of star borders that are based on patterns found on the floor of the Western Heritage Museum building. The Log Cabin blocks, an enduring quilt pattern used by quilters past and present, surround the center star, gradually moving from light to dark as they move towards the quilt’s outer edge. Thirty-one members of the Omaha Quilters Guild worked on the quilt.

Nebraska is America
Made by members of the Lincoln Quilters Guild
Lincoln, Nebraska, 1976
Cotton and cotton-polyester, 102″ × 100″
Donated by Lincoln Quilters Guild, 2005.028.0001 

The 1976 Bicentennial spurred a quilt revival across America. Members of the Lincoln Quilters Guild
worked collectively on this quilt to celebrate both the Bicentennial and the state of Nebraska. The quilt’s design references the state capital building – the pieced borders are drawn from the mosaic tile floors and the brown applique lattice on the center square is taken from the Nebraska Supreme Court room ceiling. Pictorial quilting designs in the rust border include images related to Nebraska such as corn,
a covered wagon, and a windmill.

Uncovering the Art of Common Folk, 1985-1991
"Wednesday Girls" (Nebraska Quilt Project Committee members)
Made in Lincoln, Nebraska
Donated by the Wednesday Girls

A quilt included in the Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers book inspired this quilt, which was made by
the members of the Nebraska Quilt Project. The original Crazy quilt was made by a young Nebraska woman, Edith Withers Meyers, between 1894 and 1898, documenting her life on a homestead in western Nebraska. The makers of this contemporary quilt viewed it as a sequel to the original quilt, using a similar format with sayings, dates and rich embroidery. The names of project members and each of the sites where Quilt History Days were held are included on the quilt. In the center is a portrait of the Nebraska Quilt Project committee. The Crazy quilt is embellished with buttons, crocheted flowers, and embroidery.

Works in the Exhibition

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos
This exhibition was made possible through funding from Friends of the International Quilt Museum and the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit for more information.
Event Date
Friday, April 8, 2011 to Sunday, October 2, 2011