HIS FAMILY'S STORY SEWN INTO FABRIC OF TIME - Jim Tharpe took questions from Amy Green, director of the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, whiere 12 quilts stitched by family members over four generations hang. The exhibit “Hartsfield Quilt Collection: Caldwell, Love & Hartsfield Family of Quilters” continues through April 28. - Photo by Ken Stern
MAKING PAPER IN THE OLD WAY: BY HAND – “Paper & Ink: Book & Paper Art by Brenna Jael” is on the first floor of the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum through March 24. Displayed are hand-bound and hand drawn and written books and “unusual types of binding and paper [and] uses of paper. Brenna Jael lives and has her studio in La Conner. – Photo by Ken Stern
Jim Tharpe returned to La Conner March 6 to share more of the story of his remarkable collection of family quilts, “The Hartsfield Family Quilt Collection.” The 12 quilts are being exhibited as a set for the first time at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum. Tharpe, who has stayed often in La Conner, chose its museum for the first complete exhibit of the family collection. Tharpe praised the Museum, saying it “was the only museum that really understood what I have.” He decided last summer that the first exhibit of his collection would be in La Conner. Visibly moved as spoke to 20 people at the Country Inn on a snowy night, he recounted how he came to realize the value and importance of his family heirloom only 20 years ago, when he was in his 50s. The two oldest quilts, dating to the 1850s, were made by his great grandmother, Miss Molly, held as a slave in Tennessee. One, his favorite, has blood stains. While he can only speculate on how it was spilled, he is sure pain was a factor when it happened. He called it “the mother of all the quilts” and he meant that historically as well as genealogically. “I had to come to grips with the idea that she had blood. I had to deal with that . . . with all the things that could have occurred with that quilt,” he told the group. That family history can only be understood by those whose ancestors were held in bondage, he said. That history has shaped his family’s life every generation. “It’s amazing to me that I have a picture [photo] of my grandfather coming out of slavery. He was nine years old. He was very well dressed. It brings tears to my eyes to see how we developed as a family,” he said. He noted that the family photographs in the exhibit indicate some means. He credited each generation for holding on to and passing the quilts and photographs on. “I have photos going back 200 years,” he said. He learned of the quilts’ value from a friend in the mid-1990s. After this exhibit he intends to show the collection regularly and tell its story. He says both are unique, that he is the “only person in the country with that” physical, continuous link to his, and the nation’s, past. His grandmother was one step away – one generation – from slavery. Into the 1930s every family member was touched by slavery, he said. Tharpe recalled trips south as a child, that he “travelled in caravans. We put generators, lights, chickens in the car. . . This quilt was in the car. It was around me.” He stressed: “My fondest memory is not the quilts but what the quilts produced.” They were the family’s backbone, he said. His plans are to share the family quilt and history. “I want to show them. I want to show them around the country. Besides having tears in my eyes, I think about the people who put them together.” Tharpe wants to extend their – his – journey into the future. The exhibit “Hartsfield Quilt Collection: Caldwell, Love & Hartsfield Family of Quilters” continues through April 28.