Visitors shouldn't expect an organizational theme for the 100 quilts on display at downtown Rock Hill's "Quilts Tell Stories" art exhibit, set to debut Friday. At the historic White Home and Main Street's Center for the Arts, handcrafted quilts dating back to the 1850s will be hung next to contemporary pieces, with only labels to help discern the era when they were crafted.
The interspersing of quilts from different eras was intentional, said Wade B. Fairey, director of Historic Rock Hill.
"I think the mixture of old and new is important in showing the common link between the hundreds of years separating the quilts," Fairey said.
"Many of the same sentiments, patterns and inspirations from years gone by are still being used today. It links Rock Hill's history to Rock Hill's present."
Selected from more than 170 entries, the designs carry a variety of meanings.
Some are labors of love crafted from cherished family materials, such as leftover children's clothing. Others bear historical significance, such as a piece constructed by the Ladies Aid Society of Rock Hill-based Ebenezer Church (circa 1899), where the names of church members are incorporated into the design.
Some of the displayed quilts were not created with artistic or sentimental purpose.
Member and former president of the York County Quilters Association Wynnell Shows donated a quilt her grandmother Lola Irene Helms crafted during the Great Depression titled "Grandmother's Flower Garden."
Comprised of seed sacks, the quilt was made by Helms for the simple purpose of keeping her family warm in her southern Alabama hometown. The quilt is hanging at the White Home.
"For my grandmother, making quilts was merely a way to get by on limited resources," Shows said. Shows has a quilt on display at the Center for the Arts titled "Bethlehem Journey", which details the biblical story of the Three Wise Men.
"It makes me wonder how the quilts we craft today will be perceived 50 years from now and where the art form will be," she said.
Perhaps the most telling story echoed by any of the quilts on display is the story of Eleanor "Dina" Hall, who was instrumental in bringing the quilt exhibit to fruition. Glass portraits of Rock Hill citizens from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s - 139 in all - were entrusted to Hall, who intended to make a quilt honoring the community's past.
Hall never had the chance to complete her vision. She died Feb. 28 of pancreatic cancer. She was 68.
Five members of the York County Quilters Association (Shows, Martha Mitchell, Joyce Walton, Mary Bell and Linda Dellinger), along with other volunteers, were determined to preserve Hall's memory.
They traveled to Hall's home in Murrell's Inlet, acquiring the materials needed to complete her work. The finished product is displayed at the Center for the Arts' perimeter section.
"Dina hoped that lifelong residents of Rock Hill could view the photos and put names to the faces which appear on the quilt," said Debra Heintz, executive director of the Arts Council of York County. "Now, not only can residents try to decipher 'the ghosts of Rock Hill,' but also view the work of Hall, whose legacy will live on forever."
Every quilt in the display, which is open to the public through April 28, tells a story, be it an inscribed name, a pattern or an image with meaning to the quilter. Martha Mitchell of the York County Quilters Association hopes the exhibit will be appreciated by the community, as well as lure the curious into the art of quilt design.
"I think people will gather an appreciation for the dedication it takes to create a quilt, as well as the longevity of the art form," said Mitchell, who has two pieces ("Bears and Berries" and "Row Robin") on display at the Center for the Arts. "Hopefully, it will spark an interest in someone who will pass quilt-making down through their family like so many of us."