On Saturday 4 April, TRC volunteer Susan Cave writes:
The impressions we have of Southern Appalachia are often those of making moonshine and of people shooting their neighbours. Folklore and misconception most of it, but there are definitely ‘mountain people’ in those hills and while the men may have been handy with their shotguns, the women were certainly handy with their needles making ‘mountain quilts’. The TRC Chinese Coin quilt (TRC 2019.2229) has a story that follows a misconception, misrepresentation, folklore, call it what you like….
When the quilt was bought from the ‘maker’, Eulala Schuler, about thirty years ago, she claimed it as her own work. She explained that the pinks and blues were leftovers from ‘special orders’ she had been given to make new quilts. The older fabrics, she said, were her (much older) brothers’ shirts who came back after the Second World War was over. During those years, she said, the brothers had hidden in the mountains as their parents were German and they had no intention of fighting their kin. To find a maker of an ‘old’ quilt who was prepared to talk about it is quite rare so there was really no reason to disbelieve her tales.
When the quilt arrived with the story at the TRC, my colleague, Beverley Bennet and I, examined it very closely. On first appearance (particularly with the blue and the pink present) it was possible that the story as told by Eulala Schuler was true.
But as we worked on, and did more research, it became clear that the lady could not have made the quilt at all. It was probably her long-departed mother who produced it. Eulala would have been a tiny girl, if she was there at all. And we discovered that it wasn’t one quilt, but two, as there was there was an even older quilt underneath which had been covered on both the front and the back. Over the years, fabric had worn away and under good light we could see it easily.
Eulala Schuler did live in a simple mountain cabin all her life, her Papa and ‘Mutti’ had immigrated from Germany and her brothers were indeed mountain men who specialized in hunting and did hide away during wars. Apart from problems at school (the boys were apparently both thrown out for fighting and the quilter couldn’t read) they stayed together as a family unit and lived out their lives. There were no marriages of the siblings and the family home revolved around the kitchen table that Papa had made way back. When the Chinese Coin quilt was purchased, Eulala Schuler was the only family member still alive.
Does it change things? Not really. We know that quilts like these were made in simple households all over America. Eulala was thrilled to be able to sell such an old quilt and I am sure felt valued, after all “Mutti” had gone to her Maker, so there was no-one left to say otherwise. But whatever, the quilt is a piece of “livin history”, a source of wonder clearly used and loved.