When I think of objects, I often immediately think of store bought goods such as phones, cups, stuffed animals, and other everyday items we may carry around with us. I do not usually imagine something that is homemade; to me, the term object for such a thing takes away a lot of its substance. Nonetheless, the objects I have chosen to focus on from Huguenot Street are the many quilts within their collection.
During class when we first discussed the plethora of objects available for research at Huguenot Street, I came across quilts nicknamed “freedom quilts.” I was instantly intrigued, and so I delved a bit into the history of these objects. Freedom quilts were thought to be a part of the underground railroad that worked in disguise to lead slaves to freedom. The quilts were usually adorned with some sort of arrow shaped pattern. This was a common pattern regardless, but when hung outside of one’s house they became directional symbols, pointing the way to freedom. Since quilts were such common objects to have hung outside of one’s home, this method was able to remain undetected, so much so that historians still do not have concrete evidence that this was the main purpose of these quilts. However, despite the lack of the facts, the idea is still an incredibly interesting one and sheds light on the truth of our history and the hardships that slaves dealt with, as well as the extreme methods they needed to pursue to obtain their freedom.
With this history in mind, I was interested in the use of quilts as objects, merely as a whole. I am the proud owner of quite a few quilts, all of which were handmade by a family member of mine. I have one such quilt that became my “baby blanket.” It was made of white cloth with yellow fringes and adorned with images of cartoon characters from Sesame Street. Though the meaning behind this quilt is not quite as deep as the ones used as part of the underground railroad, it still holds significant value to me. The woman who made the quilt was my grandmother, whom I call Nanny. She made it before I was born, just as she did for my sister. It was a family tradition she had always followed. Since it came from her, I have kept it to this day. Though the cartoons on it will be outdated by the time I have my own children, I still intend to pass it down as part of my family legacy.
Huguenot Street has a rich collection of quilts, many of which have a meaning behind them as my baby blanket does. One in particular that caught my attention immediately is located in the “commemorative quilts” section of their website. The quilt, which is titled Tercentenary Quilt, was worked on by thirty-five women as a celebration of the three hundred year anniversary of the New Paltz settlement. As evident in the imade, each block tells a little story about New Paltz’s history. They include the first church built in the town, the Huguenot cross, the Bevier-Elting house, the Walkill River, and many more. Looking at this quilt, it tells a story, which is what we have learned about objects. They are rich in stories and histories and I feel that this particular object greatly exemplifies that. The object itself has become a historic item, but the fact that each little block on the quilt has its own story increases the historic value of the quilt even more so.
The Huguenot Quilt Collection also includes a section called “friendship quilts.” These are collective quilts that were passed down through family lines as a way to commemorate the family members that came before them. One such quilt is The Duboisville Friendship Quilt.
The appearance of this quilt varies greatly from the previous stated one. It is a simple repetitive pattern, including brights colors such as reds and oranges. However, the significance of this object lies in the signatures that are present on the quilt. In the middle of each diamond-shaped design, as shown in the images, is a signature of who is presumed to be one family member.
When assessing the value of such an object, it is amazing to think that this quilt was signed by so many family members and then passed down through the generations. Many traditional objects that become a part of a family’s legacy do not have such a distinct line of succession as this one does. The fact that this quilt has the signatures of past family members shows just how much of a rich history it has within that family.
Quilts of Historic Huguenot Street, omeka.hrvh.org/exhibits/show/quilts-of-hhs/introduction.
“The Duboisville Friendship Quilt, Historic Huguenot Street.” Hudson River Valley Heritage, http://www.hrvh.org/cdm/ref/collection/hhs/id/2163.
(Still working on source for background information, as well as further findings on their website.)