Tradition is Breeze-Tested at the Appalachian Women’s Museum

The tradition is centuries old, yet the event is only two years old and has already
bloomed in popularity.

Where do quilts hang out today? If you’re a collector, either of antique-patterned or free-form modern quilts, you’ve probably got your favorite specimens displayed on your walls. If you’re a quilting artisan, your work might be in various states of completion in your studio, or on its way to get judged at a fiber-art show. And if you’re a traditionalist, you’ve got your quilts somewhere safe but not showy — on your beds at home, or tucked in a hope chest till the cold comes again.

But if you’re a quilting purist — and that category could embrace all of the above — your quilts know where they’ll be once spring has arrived for good (and that can take a while, especially at the highest peaks and in the shadier coves). They’ll get hung out on the front porch or the laundry lines for a good old-fashioned airing, a heritage act that goes back to Appalachian pioneer days, when this rite of spring was essential for blankets, especially after a season of heavy use.

“The mountains of Western North Carolina are breathtaking. However, it wasn’t always an easy place to live. For many women, life in the Southern Appalachians was hard,” begins the mission statement at The Appalachian Women’s Museum. Exhibits at this Jackson County venue show the extreme grit that was required to raise big families on little money in extreme isolation. “Airing of the Quilts” debuted last year to much success, featuring more than 65 storied pieces on display.

Featured artist/demonstrator Laura Noelle Goebel, who made her first quilt 50 years ago and never stopped, has supported the museum since its launch. “It’s a significant addition to our county to help showcase the strong women who helped build this region,” says Goebel. “Teaching the craft and sharing the quilting stories has been my way of preserving and perpetuating a woman’s need to have color and design in her life — and, at the same time, making a useful object.”

The Appalachian Women’s Museum (100 Hometown Place, between Dillsboro and Sylva) hosts the second annual “Airing of the Quilts” on Saturday, May 4, 11am-5pm. The event includes homesteading demonstrations, live music, and kids’ activities. See appwomen.org or call 828-482-5860 for more information.

—M.J. MacAodh

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