By: Terry Simpson
The courtroom in the Monroe County Courthouse doesn’t see much use anymore, but as the dreary weather last week moved in, on Thursday, June 5, the courtroom was transformed into a kaleidoscope of color as the sixth annual Celebration of Quilts and Quilting kicked off for the weekend.
With the weather forecasted to turn to thunderstorms and heavy rains, organizers decided to move the show from the Old Mulkey State Meeting House, where it is normally held, to a different location.
Old Mulkey Meeting House Manager, and organizer of the show, Shelia Rush called upon the Fiscal Court as the forecasted weather loomed over the area, telling those gathered for the ribbon cutting on Thursday, “This was a very last-minute change and we are very appreciative of the Court being so accommodating.”
Rush quickly pulled together a display rivaling the five past celebrations held at the historic log church, without breaking a sweat. Borrowed tabletop easels from a local funeral home, jury chairs and even painters tape helped to build displays as Rush draped the quilts across the pews and hung them from quilt racks.
Colorful quilts lined the walls of the unused courtroom and hung from the white iron rails separating the courtroom sections.
The resulting showcase was, as one observer stated, “Breathtaking!”
The Celebration of Quilts and Quilting sponsored again this year by the family of the late Lucille Page, the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, the Monroe County Tourism Commission, the Monroe Arts Council, Robertson’s Decorating and more and Deb Emberton Quilting, is held each year in memory of Lucille Page.
Rush shared the story of the birth of the celebration as she laughed, “When I came up with the idea, my own mother told me I was crazy. People were leery of precious heirlooms being displayed to the public—how would we keep them clean—but the Page family gave me a chance and I was so honored in that trust.”
Page family representative Denise Bean spoke at the ribbon cutting, sharing stories of her mother and the love for quilting she instilled in her family. She explained that the quilts her mother made captured her family history through handprints, cute sayings and even journal entries.
Bean noted that she and other family members were nervous the first year, sharing stories of birds and even snakes who attended — uninvited of course — but saying in the end, everything worked out just as it would this sixth year, despite the weather.
This year’s celebration featured 70 quilts produced by Monroe County’s own “Craig Sisters,” the children (including two brothers) of Glen and Amie Craig.
It is interesting to note that each of those five sisters, after graduating from Gamaliel High School and then Western Kentucky University, went on to become teachers, all serving the students of Monroe County at some point.
However, long before they found their love of education—the sisters had a passion for quilting, learning the art from their mother, who passed it down from her mother, Leona (Richards) Proffitt.
The sisters are now known as Laverne Pinkley, Mae Van Petett, Virginia Craig, Willodean Carter and Glenda Jones Gregory.
Quilt making, which has become an art form over the years, was more of a necessity in their grandmother’s day.
She even planted the cotton seeds which eventually became batting for her quilts, the ladies noted.
She taught her only daughter to sew, probably never realizing the legacy she would leave behind — from a simple lesson on quilting, needed to keep her future family warm, to four and five generations later — an art celebrated not only in Monroe County but neighboring areas who made the drive to view the displays.
The sisters shared memories of making their own clothes and later quilts, with sister Willodean explaining that nothing was wasted in those days.
“All the scraps from the clothes we made were saved and, on days when the weather was too bad for us to attend school, we would use those scraps to quilt with our mother.”
The youngest of the Craig sisters, Glenda, stood just inside the doors of the exhibit, where the attendees anxiously awaited the showcase, just after the ribbon cutting by the Craig family.
She proudly pointed out the first two quilts on display, noting that they were quilted by her mother.
She then turned toward the first row of pews where several quilts lined the seats. This display spanned all the way to the last row, where a pink and blue pastel display was featured.
She seemed a bit lost in thought as she told guests, “All of these are mine, but that was my first quilt.
“I was 8 years old—you can probably tell from the stitching. I was the youngest, but mama lovingly taught me just as she had my sisters.”
The showcased artwork of the family of this year’s event seemed very popular as several guests attended the opening night of the celebration.
Each piece was examined, with some noting the intricacy of the stitching and one guest remarking how difficult it was not to touch the heirloom pieces.
When another guest remarked on the crisp white material, and what it must take to keep the antiques in such pristine condition, Homemaker and sewing instructor Carol Wheeler explained proper storage and care.
She told guests that these quilts had likely never been used, “Most of these are showpieces. They were entered in fairs, given as wedding gifts or passed down through generations.
“Most people fold them and store them inside a pillowcase and then in a cedar chest. I get mine out occasionally and refold them, so they do not break down along the fold lines over time,” Wheeler added.
Wheeler, as well as many other local quilters, had her own quilts displayed at other locations throughout the county during the Celebration event.
Those projects were showcased on Friday and Saturday as the event continued at the courthouse, as well as other satellite locations around town.
Several other quilt-based activities were also held throughout the county with businesses offering discounts and door prizes.
Maps were given out with purchased armbands, which told of the satellite locations and quilts displayed at homes and businesses.