‘Every quilt tells a story’

August 30, 2011 by

Vickie Hall, second from right, tells the story of the quilt blocks she discovered as her father Eugene Herrman, right, Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, left, and Susie Haver listen.

IF THE STORY OF THE QUILT fit together as beautifully as the quilt itself, it would make for a fascinating history. The good news is that the hand-sewn fabric squares — believed to be at least 100 years old — are in the process of becoming a priceless family heirloom. The bad news is that many pieces of the story behind those quilt blocks are still missing.

The quilt top made from those blocks will be on display at the Nazareth Motherhouse during the KS 150 QuiltFest Oct. 7 and 8. And Vickie Hall will probably also be on hand to explain the significance of the blocks to her family in the Scandia and Norway areas north of Concordia. (Details about the QuiltFest are included at the end of this story, or you can CLICK HERE to go to the KS 150 QuiltFest website.)

This is the story of Hall’s family and the quilt blocks — or, at least, the pieces of the story that Hall has been able to track down.

 

HALL’S GREAT-GRANDPARENTS WERE Claes Henrik Herrman and Hilda Amelia Granstedt; they had emigrated separately from Sweden, and met and married in 1873 after settling in the Scandia area.

Claes — often referred to as C.H. or Charles — and Hilda reared five daughters and one son (another son died in infancy), according to “Kansas History for Kansans.” The eldest was Helga, born in 1876; then Victor Henry, born 1878; Hilda Amelia (and known as Millie), born 1880; Ellen Linnea, born 1883; Hilma Louise, born 1889; and Alice, born about 1894.

Claes, who had trained as a blacksmith in his native Sweden, prospered as a farmer and stockman in the Scandia and Norway areas of north-central Kansas. The family eventually owned 1,000 acres of land on which they produced corn, wheat, and alfalfa and had a herd of cattle.

By 1900, Claes and Hilda needed more space for their growing family, so they built what is today one of the landmark homes in the area: Its 14 rooms and three stories (a full basement, two stories and the attic — which will play a key role later in the story of the quilt) measured 40-by-40 feet and was built of native dressed limestone. (Located about 7 miles south of Scandia, today the house is owned and operated by Jerry and Marilyn Sorenson as the Herrman House Bed and Breakfast.)

The Herrman children, meanwhile, were enjoying the lifestyle their parents’ prosperity made possible.

“It was obvious the girls were quite privileged as they went off to college and enjoyed travel, clubs, hobbies and formal training in the fine arts,” says Vickie Hall, who is the great-granddaughter of Claes and Hilda and the great-niece of the five Herrman daughters.

 

AT JUST ABOUT THE SAME TIME that the Herrman family was beginning to prosper north of Concordia, a small group of Catholic sisters arrived in Kansas from Rochester, N.Y. The year was 1883 and the group, led by Sister Stanislaus Leary, was headed to Arizona Territory. But when they arrived in Leavenworth, the bishop asked them to stay. So they went to Newton, Kan., where they remained for a year and then came north, where in 1884 they founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan.

One of their first undertakings in Concordia was to build a Motherhouse, or convent, for their new congregation, and start a school for girls from throughout the area. The original Nazareth Convent and Academy was built at Fifth and Olive streets, and today houses Manna House of Prayer.

The Sisters almost immediately began offering instruction in “the practical education of young ladies,” as described in a brochure from around 1900. “The system of instruction pursued in this Academy is of a most useful and comprehensive character. It is intended to train the heart as well as the mind — to form women who will not only grace society with their accomplishments, but honor and edify it with their virtues…”

The Academy and the new congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph were so successful, in attracting both students of all faiths and Catholic women who wanted to join the order, that they soon outgrew the original building. In 1902 work began on the five-story red brick-and-stone building on the south edge of Concordia; in just 13 months, construction was completed and the Nazareth Convent and Academy moved into its new home.

At some point — perhaps as early as 1897 — Helga Herrman, who would have been 21 then, arrived to take classes in painting and music at Nazareth Academy. According to Vickie Hill, Helga’s younger sister Hilma was an accomplished pianist who took music classes at Nazareth Academy; the family has a program for a music recital at the Academy listing Hilma as a participant.

A nephew of Helga and Hilma, Eugene Herrman, now 86, says he’s always heard that Hilma also took classes in “fancywork” at the Academy.

“Fancywork,” at the turn of the century, was a term that included all kinds of ornamental needlecrafts, such as embroidery, crochet and quilting.

The student records from the Academy are sketchy at best, according to the congregation’s archivist, Sister Bernadine Pachta, so there is no confirmation of when the Herrman girls attended.

The Academy was not the end of the Herrman girls’ education, however.

Hilda Amelia and Ellen both attended Hardin College in Mexico, Mo., while Hilma and Alice both attended the University of Kansas. Hilma studied music there, while Alice studied drama and the arts. Eldest sister Helga apparently went to Lawrence with the two younger sisters to cook and keep house for them.

 

IN THEIR BIG HOME SOUTH of Scandia, meanwhile, their mother and father had no need to throw anything away. With space to spare, the attic over the decades became the storage area for virtually everything the family no longer needed.

The Herrman home, built in 1900 about 7 miles south of Scandia, Kan.

Following college, three of the daughters — Amelia, Ellen and Hilma — continued to live there, occupying their time with household chores, painting, sewing and quilting. Even their unfinished projects ended up stored in the huge attic.

The family patriarch, Claes, died in 1928; his wife Hilda lived on in the grand family home until her death in 1937.  Their three daughters remained there, and in 1953 the couple’s only surviving son, Victor, moved his wife Olena into the home to care for Ellen and Hilma.

Eventually Claes and Hilda’s grandson, Eugene Herrman, would inherit the home and live there with his family until 1997 when they decided to “downsize” and move to the town of Norway.

For the first time in almost 100 years, family members started going through everything that had been stored in the attic through three generations.

“My mom and my sister found a piece of thin muslin, folded over like an envelope,” recalls Vickie Hall. Inside was a neat stack of quilt blocks, held together with a simple straight pin and a note that read, “Made by the aunts.”

“They eventually showed them to me, and I just lit up,” Hall says with a laugh. “They were 20 9-by-11-inch quilt blocks, and there was not a spot on them. All those years and not a bit of rust from the pin or mildew; they were perfect. And the tiny stitching… We can only imagine the hours spent working on the blocks.  I wonder if they were done over the winter months or for a special occasion.”

 

THE PATTERN FOR THE QUILT blocks, according to Hall’s family lore, came from the Kansas City Star newspaper, which began publishing weekly patterns in 1926.

That was four years after Nazareth Academy ceased to exist in Concordia; the school had become part of Marymount College when the Sisters of St. Joseph opened it in Salina in 1922.

So Hall knows that  “the aunts” — Helga and Hilma — did not stitch the blocks while they were attending Nazareth Academy. But she clearly believes that’s where they perfected their “fancywork” skills and learned other artistry.

“We have a lot of gorgeous painted dishes, pyrography pieces and beautiful fancywork that lead us to believe the stories about the classes they took at Nazareth Academy to be fact,” says Hall, who now lives on a farm just north of Scandia with her husband Gerold.

And now, she also has a completed quilt top.

With advice from her friend and experienced quilter Sharon Wolters, Hall has created an 81-inch square quilt that she “assembled in a way that might have been used back in the 1920s or ’30s.

“It’s amazing that the colors are still bright and well preserved after 100-plus years of storage in the attic.”

And while she had hoped to be able to confirm more of the details about the quilt blocks and her great-aunts’ connection to Nazareth Academy, Hall is satisfied with the history she has uncovered.

“The quilt blocks, which I will always treasure, have been such a source of enjoyment as our family has reminisced once again about  ‘the talented Herrman sisters,’ ” she says. “We have begun to talk about our family history again and share it with our grandchildren.”

• • • • • •

QuiltFest celebrates Kansas’ 150th birthday

Quilts from across Kansas and across time will be on display across Concordia at the KS 150 QuiltFest Oct. 7 and 8.

The first-ever event includes quilt displays, quilting demonstrations, a vendors’ hall and a dinner and quilt auction, all to benefit Neighbor to Neighbor, the women’s center in downtown Concordia.

Organizers hope to have up to 150 quilts as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Kansas’ statehood.

The two main exhibit sites will be:

• Nazareth Motherhouse at 13th and Washington streets. Displays there will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday and from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Tours of the landmark 1902 building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will also be available during those times.

• Living Hope Foursquare Church, 129 W. Sixth St. Displays there will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Cloud County Museum, 634 Broadway, will also have its collection of vintage quilts on display.

Throughout the two-day event, there will also be quilting demonstrations and vendors at Living Hope Foursquare Church, plus a “Thrift Shop” featuring quilting fabric, notions, patterns and books at the Cloud County Convention and Tourism office, 130 E. Sixth St.

On Friday evening beginning at 7 there’s a special “quilters’ social” and at the Concordia Lutheran Church, 325 E. Eighth St.

Admission for all the displays and other daytime events both Friday and Saturday is $5, with children younger than 12 admitted free with an adult. Each admission includes one ticket to the Saturday evening drawing for a quilt. Additional tickets for the quilt drawings will also be for sale, for $2 each or five for $5. Admission and drawing tickets will be available at both the Motherhouse and Living Hope Church.

The QuiltFest’s featured event will be a catered dinner and quilt auction Saturday evening at the parish hall of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Tickets to the dinner are $20 and must be reserved by Sept. 24. Dinner tickets are available at the Motherhouse and the Convention and Tourism office, or by calling 785/243-4303.

Those interested in attending the auction but not the dinner will be admitted to the parish hall beginning at 7:30 p.m., with the auction scheduled to begin about 7:45.

Organizers hope to have up to 20 quilts for the auction, and donors are being asked to give at least a portion of the proceeds to Neighbor to Neighbor.

The center opened in May 2010 at 103 E. Sixth St. and is operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia for women and women with young children. Its staff is made up of Sisters Pat McLennon, Jean Befort and Ramona Medina, along with a growing cadre of volunteers.

From Monday through Friday, the sisters and volunteers offer classes and services that range from one-on-one tutoring for GED exams and book studies to providing a place to do laundry or take showers and classes in sewing, baking, lacemaking and household budgeting. Individual counseling services are also available as needed, as is help in navigating the social services maze. And, for some moms, the center has become a place to go with their young children, to give the kids a chance to play and the women a chance to befriend other moms.

There is never any cost to the women taking part; all the programs are offered free, with funding coming from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, a handful of grants and individual donations. The QuiltFest marks the first time proceeds from an event will benefit the center.

Sponsors of the KS 150 QuiltFest include the Knot-Tea Ladies Quilt Guild of Glasco, Kan., Cloud County Convention and Tourism, Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Stained Glass Stitchers of Concordia  and Living Hope Foursquare Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “‘Every quilt tells a story’”

  1. Jean Befort on September 4th, 2011 5:32 pm

    Beautiful story….one that seems to have not end! I look forward to hear more at the Quilt Fest!

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