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Illinois Museum Receives Donation Of African American-Made Quilts

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Ina Dews of Elgin, Illinois, recently donated three quilts made by African-American women to the Illinois State Museum. These are the only African American-made quilts in the Museum’s collections. Ms.Dews, a well-known quilt maker, came to Springfield to make this donation. She presented a quilt she fondly calls “Puffs,” which is the second quilt that she stitched when she was fifteen.

The other two quilts in the gift are family quilts created by her aunts who were among the women who taught her to piece quilts when she was only eight years old.

Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts, Angela Goebel-Bain remarks, “It is terrific to have not only an early quilt by a well-known Illinois quilt maker, but also family quilts made by women who inspired and informed her work. By placing these important quilts in the care of the Illinois State Museum, Ms. Dews’ quilts will inspire generations to come.” Decorative Arts Registrar, Irene Boyer notes that “Ina’s offer of the first African American quilts to the collection generated much excitement.”

This is an extremely significant acquisition for the Illinois State Museum. The Museum holds over 350 quilts, mostly made and used in Illinois. The Illinois State Museum’s quilt collection is exceptionally strong, and this addition enhances the Museum’s ability to preserve Illinois’ rich quilt-making heritage and represent the work of people from throughout the state.

Ms. Dews places high value on sharing her needlework skills with the larger community. In 2007, she traveled to Rwanda as a part of the Rwanda Knits project sponsored by the Caron International yarn company to teach women and girls quilting and crocheting techniques. This trip followed a 1996 venture to Zimbabwe where she shared her passion for knitting and quilting by exchanging techniques with street vendors. In Elgin she works with women at her church and teaches at the city’s park service. With her generous donation, Ms. Dews is able to share her artistry with people across Illinois.

One of the quilts will be included in an upcoming exhibition this summer of recent gifts to the Museum’s collections. The Museum periodically presents quilts from the collections, and these quilts will be incorporated into future exhibitions. —


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