When I was in Philadelphia last week I gave some thought to the idea of false myths set in stone. The city's built a historical identity around the tale of Betsy Ross sewing (and designing) the "first flag" for George Washington.
The Betsy Ross Bridge
There are three bridges across the Delaware River there, one named for First President George Washington, one for poet Walt Whitman and the third for Betsy Ross. There it sits---a giant metal monument to a woman who did nothing heroic or even monumental. She stitched flags---not the first flag, not the most flags, not the last flag. UPDATE: I shoulda fact checked. The first bridge is Benjamin Franklin not George Washington. Thanks Judi.
One of the better Betsy Ross marketing schemes,
a child's sewing machine.
So when a reporter for the Nashville City Paper called the other day and asked me questions about the Quilt Code---the idea that escaping slaves used quilt patterns as code to help make their way north on the Underground Railroad, Betsy's name came to mind immediately. Let's not create a public image around a historical innacuracy.
Mixing marketing metaphors:
The cowboy's favorite Revolutionary grape juice.
Apparently Nashville was planning to use the Quilt Code/Underground Railroad story as the basis for public art. I was surprised to hear the Commission was unaware of the lack of historical evidence supporting the tale derived from a twenty-year-old children's fiction book.
Deborah Hopkinson's charming 1993 book told of a
quilt used as a map to freedom.
We haven't heard much about the Quilt Code lately. Most schools no longer use it in their Black History curriculum.
The Sail Boat pattern is about 80 years old.
No quilts in this design were made in the 19th century,
although quilt code advocates believe it was a signal.
Few quilt lecturers go around anymore with a stack of Double Wedding Ring and Sail Boat quilts to discuss the deep historical meanings of these 20th-century patterns in mid-19th-century"history."
Several members of the American Quilt Study Group advised Nashville against using the UGRR Quilt Code idea. Jen Cole, the art commission’s director, listened and responded that the project would continue to have a quilt theme, but would no longer commemorate the Underground Railroad. 'We were unaware of the historical inaccuracies when we acted,' Cole said. 'We basically are going to move forward with the artist, but any relationship to the Underground Railroad, or the quilt code, will be taken out.' "
Shouldn't this be tea?
A false myth made permanent in steel and concrete? Bad idea. A quilt theme for the public art. An excellent idea. Any thoughts?
I'd go to the book of Tennessee quilt history---The Quilts of Tennessee: Images of Domestic Life Prior to 1930, published in 1986 by Bets Ramsey and Merikay Waldvogel. They mention several regional Tennessee patterns and I can think of more they've found since they conducted their original research in the 1980s.
You may think of this as a New York Beauty
but the association with New York was a 1930s marketing idea.
It's actually a regional Southern design,
popularly known in Tennessee as
Crown of Thorns or Rocky Mountain.
Read more about Tennessee quilt history by clicking here:
An unusual pattern found in Tennessee and Texas
See the story about the Nashville art project here: http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/metro-quilt-art-draws-national-scrutiny-historical-inaccuracy
Betsy Ross Danish Butterhorns.
I'd eat them with Philadelphia cream cheese.