The exhibit is free and open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a special showing from 6 to 9 p.m. on August 28, the evening of downtown Galveston’s ArtWalk. The exhibit is scheduled to run through September 24.
Most of the quilts are old; a few seem to be of fairly recent vintage (indicated by their use of heavy synthetic fabrics), but what they all have in common is that their design motifs reflect a genuineness—a simplicity of intent that is both striking and gentle.
“They point to a vintage way of life,” says Cessna. Many of the quilts include dates, signatures, quotes or messages sewn into them from the makers. Several have Texas themes; quite a few come from the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, where Cessna and her family visit often. Many were quilted by hand on old-fashioned wooden quilt frames hung from the ceiling. It is the quilts that exhibit a personal or sincere nature that Cessna says most intrigue her. The coal miner motif, probably an original design, is one of her favorites. She says she built her collection on pieces that speak to her in an authentic, honest way.
Cessna’s father was raised in Etowah, Tennessee, and her mother was raised in Alvin, Texas. They met at Fort Bliss in El Paso County. A native Texan, Cessna has enjoyed the cultural legacies of her mixed East Texas and Appalachian heritages. These legacies influenced her decisions as she built her quilt collection, as did the eight years she spent in India. While there, Cessna renewed her early interest in quilts when she was given the opportunity to learn quilting with a group of international women.
Some of the most striking and original quilts on display, including the coal miner motif, were made by an elderly woman in a small coal-mining village far back in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Because the woman’s husband was suffering from black lung, a disease caused by inhaling coal dust, she made and sold quilts to help supplement their income.
Of the quilts on display, one holds a particular importance to Cessna because it was made by her husband’s 99-year-old grandmother, Lillie Carson Martin. The Circle in a Square quilt was made with scraps collected over a course of 40 years. This particular quilt is made of scraps from the clothing Martin made for herself, her daughters and her grandchildren.
“I wanted to express admiration for the women who made them, how they made a practical item as beautiful as they could with what they had,” says Cessna about why she collects the quilts and why she wanted to share them with the public through Galveston Historical Foundation.
Cessna has compiled a catalog of the collection, which includes all the information and background details that she knows about the quilts and the quilters.
For a downloadable copy of the catalog go to www.galvestonhistory.org.
For more information about the “Pieces of the Past: The Rebekah Cessna Quilt Collection” exhibit, contact Galveston Historical Foundation at 409-765-7834.