Thursday, July 8, 2021

Arkansas Ozarks---Cabins & Quilts

Basket quilt attributed to Sarah Matthews, Enola, Arkansas, about 1912

Probably this Sarah Ann Garrett Matthews (1833-1913)

The quilt photos are from the 1987 book Arkansas Quilts: Arkansas Warmth
 by the Arkansas Quilters' Guild.

I recently took a drive through the winding roads of
the Arkansas Ozarks past the neighborhood called Clifty in Madison County.

And Clifty it is.

We drove along a ridge full of curves with spectacular views
just behind the cabins that line the highway.

Some houses were abandoned but many were still home to families. They
may look like ancient relics but do note the satellite dish on the one below.
It hasn't been abandoned for long.

The two abandoned cabins are from Dan J. Davis's Flickr Page.
See more of his haunting photos of vernacular architecture here:https://www.flickriver.com/photos/29445095@N05/tags/abandonedhouse/

Trying to look at the mountain community through fresh eyes I realized how classic this style of home is across the upland South and how Arkansas, five hours from my midwestern midlands culture in Kansas, is so much a part of Greater Appalachia.

Tufts University's map of Greater Appalachia covers
northern Arkansas in bright red.

Library of Congress
Here's an Applachian cabin in nearby Washington County photographed in 1935 by Arnold Rothstein for the W.P.A.

He also photographed an unnamed woman and
her three daughters in their Washington County home.

Photo, about 1900, found at the local Find-A-Grave site

Jean Sizemore has written about dwellings in northwest Arkansas in Ozark Vernacular Houses: A Study of Rural Homeplaces in the Arkansas Ozarks, 1830-1930.

She interviewed Novelle Blair Baumert (1913-1995) of Pleasant Grove in Stone County in 1985. Novelle told Jean about her memories of the 1920s in the two-room log house of her parents Daisy Irene Ford Blair (1881-1940) and James Albert Blair (1882-1966.)

Interior map of Novelle's two-room home. Beds in the
main room are highlighted. Novelle had one older sister.

Quilts were the family bedding. She didn't mention patchwork but as cotton farmers neighbors made their own batting---padding:
"Our neighbors used to comb through cotton they gathered up while sitting on the porch."

Front Porch in Missouri, 1938
Russell Lee for the W.P.A.
Library of Congress
 Jean Sizemore:

"In traditional Ozark houses, it was the front porch....that served as a middle ground or a 'public' reception area for the visitor....Ozark social events were simple, informal, and often held outside. There were quilting bees...."

Cotton Boll Quilt attributed to Martha Nuckolls 
of Independence County. Late 19th century.
 (Probably Martha Crigler Nuckolls (1833-1930)---born in Kentucky.)

Novelle recalled storage of unused quilts:
"If you weren't using the quilts they could go in the bed between the feather mattress and the straw ticking....I remember my Grandmother Blair [Alberta Goodwin Blair 1861-1936] had a 'quiltstack'----a big stack of quilts covered with a sheet that was piled up on top of a big storage box higher than your head, and it didn't look bad at all."

Rattlesnake by an unknown maker

One important influence on early-20th century culture was Comfort Magazine. Although published in Maine it seems to have been a fixture in the rural Southern home, bringing in mainstream ideas about homemaking and crafts.

"The front room was papered every year with newspapers or, preferably, magazines. Comfort Magazine was one. Daddy's mother [Bertie Blair] was postmistress at Redstripe...so she could afford magazines."

Family in Gees Bend, Alabama, photographed in the 1930s
by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress.

Daisy Blair also decorated with a container garden of ferns: 
"There were asparagus ferns and Boston ferns....You could get them with a subscription to Comfort Magazine."

Aside from a print picturing angels and flowers: "The only other thing I remember hanging on the wall was the pretty wall pocket that Sister [Opal Irene Blair Wilcox 1907-1995] made around 1922... embroidered with a design of a basket of flowers. We kept patterns in it." [Patterns from Comfort?]

Comfort 1923

Quilt pattern published as King Solomon's Temple in New England's Clara Stone catalog about 1910. Sarah Matthews who made the quilt at the top of the page also made this one around the same time.
The family called it Delectable Mountain.

Sarah at about the time she made the quilts. 
Both portraits from her Find-A-Grave site.

Do notice how many of the quilts pictured here have borders on only two sides, designed to fit the slat sided beds in cabins that had no separate bedrooms. 

Cabin with one central room, papered in magazine pages, 
Marshall, North Carolina, photographed in the 1930s. 
Library of Congress

See a preview of Ozark Vernacular Houses: A Study of Rural Homeplaces in the Arkansas Ozarks, 1830-1930:

67" x 76"
Medallion applique from the collection of
Glenda and Larry Harvey of Paragould, whose collection is
featured in the Arkansas Quilts book.

Posts on Arkansas quilts I've done:

Two academic works on Arkansas quilters.
Look for a PDF of JoAnne Farb's 1975 Piecin' & Quiltin': Two Quilters in SW Arkansas.

Bonita Musgrave. A Study of the Home and Local Crafts of the Pioneers of Washington County, Arkansas. Master's thesis, University of Arkansas, 1929.


  1. Stunningly beautiful and difficult quilts made in such simple surroundings! I have heard if newspaper used as insulation but never magazines as wallpaper. So very interesting- thank you .

  2. I look forward to these posts with great anticipation! These stories and the quilts are fascinating and recall memories of visiting great-aunts still living in single room log house “way up the hollar”. The smells, earthy and rich, and the quilts, bright and colorful, are still tangible in my memory. This history brought it all back to me…