Upcoming Events » Lecture by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

June 19, 2010 1:00 pm
New England Quilt Museum
18 Shattuck Street
Lowell, MA

Lecture at New England Quilt Museum by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: An American Album Quilt, Utah Territory, 1857: A Case Study in Object-Centered History.

Harvard University historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s talk unpacks the history and symbolism of a massive “album quilt” made in the Territory of Utah in 1857. Its historical significance comes from its setting. All the materials in the quilt, with the possible exception of bits of carded wool in the filling, had traveled more than a thousand miles by wagon train into the Rocky Mountains. The quilters too had traveled: from England, from Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Switzerland. From New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, and the South. Almost all had moved several times, even before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons.

The Fourteenth Ward quilt is an American album. It is American not only because it was made in a territory of the United States from materials and patterns common in other parts of the country, nor because it was displayed at an Agricultural Fair like those held in other states, but because it portrays aspirations and contradictions embedded in the history of the American republic. The quilters stitched mottoes so familiar as to be virtually invisible: In God We Trust. By Industry We Thrive. United We Stand. The Tree is Known by Its Fruit. Through their lives the quilters exemplified the fraught meanings of those words. Many had been with the Saints when they were driven from their homes in Missouri and Illinois. Now they all faced the real possibility that they would be forced to move again. As the quilters stitched their seemingly innocuous squares, one-sixth of the American army was moving across the prairies toward Utah, dispatched by President James Buchanan to put down a supposed rebellion in the Territory.

The quilt does more than connect a particular group of women to a set of sensational events. It takes us beneath headlines to unresolved issues about family, faith, marriage, and public authority, issues that mattered in 1857 and that matter today.

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