The Oshawa Community Museum has roughly 50-70 quilts in the collection, and as of today, March 11, there are less than 10 that need to be photographed and catalogued! This month long project is coming to a close. It isn’t until the quilts are carefully unwrapped and unfolded that their stories are able to be fully told. For some quilts, unfortunately, we have little information about them. They are beautifully pieced together, with a great amount of care and attention, but little information was available when they were donated to the site. Other quilts, well, they tell stories all of their own.
There are some quilts in our collection with their history literally recorded on them. These are our signature quilts which are simply fascinating to look at. They are quite a bit of work to catalogue because every name on the quilt gets written down and recorded. Some quilts have 40-50 names embroidered on them, and there was another example which had over 200 names! This one quilt has an interesting story that I’ll share another day.
There are two quilts in our collection which are ‘mates.’ The first was donated in the 1960s and the second was donated in the late 1970s. They feature a ‘Friendship Block’ pattern, with names embroidered in red in the centre. Many names repeat on both quilts. When the second quilt was donated in 1979, the donor included a history of the quilts, as follows:
May Douglas Keddie and our mother May Farewell (Mrs Everson) were very close chums as girls and they each made an autograph quilt which their mothers Mrs Keddie and Mrs AW Farewell quilted for them in 1885. Before she died my mother gave me hers and later she gave me May Keddie’s – which Jean Keddie had given her after May Keddie died. Some years later mother agreed that Helen should have her aunt’s [May Keddie’s] quilt. She was very happy to have it but later I saw in the paper that she has presented it to the Oshawa museum. I have talked to my daughters and to my sisters and the agree with me that our mother’s quilt be put in the museum in Oshawa and that we ask you to but the two quilts near together.
Both quilts are now photographed, catalogued, and are stored right beside each other.
I recently came across a fascinating magazine in our archival collection. The magazine, entitled The Canadian Military Journal featured a lengthy article on Col. Sam to celebrate his 100th birthday.
What stood out in the article were quotes from Col. Sam regarding the birth of the auto industry here in Oshawa. The development of the auto industry in Oshawa has been well documented but this is a truly unique view from the man who played such a pivotal role.
“The day before I had wired William C. Durant, head of the young Buick company in Flint, Mich., to ask for help. The McLaughlin automobile, which we had started to make ourselves after I had failed to arrive at a co-operative manufacturing arrangement with Durant and other U.S. car makers, had run into trouble. Two days before, with the parts of our first car laid out ready for assembly – and the components of one hundred more in various stages of completion – our engineer had suffered a severe attack of pleurisy. In my wire I asked Durant to lend us an engineer until our own man recovered.
Durant arrived in Oshawa not with an engineer but with two of his top executives. He took up the discussion of our last meeting – when we had failed to get together on a manufacturing arrangement – Justas if we had merely paused for breath. “I’ve been thinking it over,” he said, “and I have the solution to the problem we couldn’t overcome in our figuring.” The deal he suggested was pretty close to what I had in mind in the first place, and I said : “ That will work.” Durant nodded. “I thought it would,” he said, in that voice of his that was always so gentle – and always so much to the point.
We went into my father’s office with my brother George and Oliver Hezzelwood, who looked after our books, and in five minutes we had the contract settled. It ran just a page and a half and was a model agreement for lawyers to study. Chiefly it covered the terms under which we had 15-year rights to buy the Buick engine and some other parts. We could build and design out own bodies.”
What a defining moment in Oshawa’s history. I was left wondering what could have been if the engineer hadn’t gotten sick or if Durant had sent only an engineer. Would the McLaughlin automobile have succeeded without the Buick engine or would it have been amongst the many car companies that came and went?
Moments such as this, from those who lived it, are what make the study of history so fascinating.
In early 2013, our museum was thrilled to learn that we received a Museum and Technology Fund Grant which would go towards digitizing Henry House. In anticipation of our summer exhibit Common Threads: Stories from our Quilt Collection, the first artefacts to be cataloged, photographed, and digitized were our quilts! The museum has over 75 quilts in the collection, and photographing these large artefacts has proven to be quite the challenge.
The first step was finding space to photograph the artefacts, and the upper floor of Henry House, which is off limits to the public and therefore limited traffic, proved to be an ideal space. The entire floor area in one room, with grey photographer’s paper laying against the carpet, became the photographic studio.
The next challenge we needed to face was how we were going to get the picture we wanted! Before undertaking this project, we researched how other sites photographed their large textiles, and we had a clear idea of what we liked and what we didn’t like. Photographing our own quilts at first was a trial and error process, seeing what worked, what didn’t, and what technique got us the image we were looking for.
What technique worked for our quilts? A camera, on a tripod, on top of a ladder. It sounds elaborate, but we were happy with how the images were turning out.
We’re also trying our best to ensure we capture the whole quilt, as well as an image with the back, because quite often the fabrics on the back are quite detailed.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing posts about the quilts in our collection, the patterns used, and the stories that are associated with the quilt. This was simply the story behind the story. Please be sure to check back often!