Friday, June 21, 2024

The Moses Sisters' Gift to Cuesta Benberry


In the Cuesta Benberry collection at Michigan State University is
this traditional looking applique quilt made by Lena and Olivia Moses
as a birthday gift for her in 1975.

Cuesta's notes:
"Made by the sisters, Lena and Livia Moses, Roanoke, VA. as a birthday gift for me. I had sent the pattern to them and they liked it very much. They made several quilts of this design. A boutique owner in Atlanta just snapped up these quilts for sale in her shop and wanted more. I met Lena and Livia back in the early 1960s, early on in my career, and we remained friends until their deaths."

Cuesta about the time of that birthday 

Cuesta is best recalled as a scholar studying African-American quiltmakers but she was also a prodigious quilt pattern collector. She may have met the Moses sisters through her pattern collecting and trading network as Lena and Livia were white women who lived far from Cuesta and made quilts to sell to supplement their income from their jobs in Roanoke's rayon factory.

In the 1930 census just as the Great Depression began Lena and Livia were recorded living with mother Lillie Alma Sowers Moses in Roanoke. All three worked at the "Rayon Mill," American Viscose Corporation, jobs they seem to have held all their working lives.

Roanoke's viscose silk mill (rayon)

A float in a 1928 parade.

The Moses women:
Lillie Alma 1867-1961
Lena May 1895- 1980
Olivia Alma 1901 -1987

Always looking for references to women in the textile industries, particularly those who made quilts to sell, I was glad to find this connection to jobs in a textile mill and side income making and selling quilts.

Roanoke Public Libraries
Woman working in the rayon mill during the time
the Moses sisters did.

The Moses's later home at 1236 Pechin Avenue. Photo from perhaps 20 years ago.

Mother Lillie died at 94 in 1961 so Cuesta
may never have known her.

The sisters share a tombstone

Lena's 1980 obituary in the Roanoke Times

Hearts & Pomegranates

The pattern, as the Moses sisters noticed, was unusual. It's not in my Encyclopedia of Applique and the set with a second applique block in the center makes it more unusual. And then there's the border.

1 comment: