Monday, April 18, 2016

Archives Project, Post Three

The quiltmakers.....


Information from the archives about the Bonne Fete quilt: 

As Baton Rouge approached its 300th birthday, a collaborative group of local quilters joined forces to create a very special quilt to commemorate the event.  With 18 months' advance notice, the group knew they had plenty of time to complete their task, but how? 

Local quilter Judy Holley began by contacting area guilds and assessing interest.  From the six participating guilds, a research and design committee was assembled and the task of covering 300 years of local history began.  The fall of 1997 found committee members Thelma Berg, Sherry Herringshaw, Judy Holley, Candy McLaurin and Melanie West meeting twice a month at a local library poring over old books, photographs and newspaper articles to assemble the knowledge they would need to create a design. 

Three hundred years of local history proved to be a daunting task!  It soon became obvious that only a few select places would actually be memorialized on the quilt, and from a sewing standpoint, it would be easier to limit the use of people on the quilt.  Ultimately, nineteen block themes and twelve vignettes were selected for the quilt. 

Once research was completed Melanie West spearheaded the effort of translating these ideas into a scaled draft of the basic overall layout of the design.  Next, actual-sized patterns were needed for all of the designs.  Melanie and Judy divided up the designs and started drawing.  Sherry Herringshaw assisted with the vignettes; Thelma Berg drew the Hayden sculpture; and local Native American artist Chery O drew the Indian with the peace pipe.  Judy's daughter Lauren Holley also helped. 

On February 1, 1998 the Research and Design Committee met at a local library and presented the design to a packed room of quilters who would actually choose and sew the individual blocks and vignettes, and the stitching began.  For the next few months, the quilters met once a month to share progress on their work and to compare tips and techniques on translating local landmarks, past and present, into fabric works of art.  On May 31, 1998, the completed blocks were turned in at a local library, and Melanie West undertook to set them all together and add the oak tree with some help from Thelma Berg. 

By late summer the quilt was ready for quilting, and quilting bees in the homes of Thelma Berg and Melanie West became a daily ritual.  In just over two months the entire quilt, 72 by 114 inches, had been hand quilted and over 60 people spent hundreds of hours to quilt the Baton Rouge Quilt.  This does not include the time spent making the blocks and assembling the top. 

Melanie West, Suzanne Elliott, Margie Bumm, and Thelma Berg in Thelma Berg's studio

In March 1999, the quilt was displayed at the Baton Rouge Hilton during the 16th annual GSQA Seminar, the same weekend the city started its Bonne Fete celebrations.  On March 7, 1999 the quilt was donated to the city in an official dedication ceremony at the Old State Capitol. 

The NQA appraiser noted the very good workmanship in the patchwork, applique, and embellishments with moderately heavy overall quilting and set its insurance value at $8,000.

Please send comments and corrections to me at or 760 815 5305.