From the Midwest to the West Coast and back, quilt takes cross country trip
Upon completing her Masters degree in 2002, Louise Grilley decided to take a trip just for herself.
Having always enjoyed history, her decision to drive the Oregon Trail route made sense. Add in all the great thrift and quilt shops along the way and it was a done deal.
One such shop sat in Astoria, Oregon, about as far as you can go before you hit the Pacific Ocean. Sight-seeing led to looking for shops and when she walked into one particular shop, she asked the cashier whether there was any linen, lace or quilts. A pointing finger directed her to a set of shelves in the back of the shop where boxes were stacked.
"I was walking downtown looking in shops and I asked about fabrics," she said. "He said in the back and pointed."
She began sifting through the boxes and came across what she first thought was a beautifully embroidered handkerchief only to find it was a hand stitched red-work quilt.
"I thought 'oh, my gosh, I want this,' " she said. "I thought it was beautiful. It's really art."
And that's what she and her husband have treated it like since she brought it home. It has hung on a wall that gets minimal to no sunlight and acts as a large piece of artwork for their home in Wisconsin.
It was just a few weeks ago when planning a route for mission work the couple is doing in Oklahoma that Louise looked up at the quilt and had a thought.
"I asked Vincent if we would go through Wayne, Nebraska on our way to Oklahoma. It wasn't right on the route but it wasn't out of the way terribly."
Louise thought bringing the quilt home was important for a number of reasons, one for the history and two, to possibly help fund their passion for mission work.
The Grilleys have offered the quilt for sale to anyone who might be of interest. Their hope is to use the funds raised from the sale of the quilt to purchase Bibles.
"I think it belongs here. I love history and I wanted to share this with your community," she said. "Vincent and I do a lot of sharing of the word of God. We are retired so we watch our spending. If someone wanted to purchase the quilt, we would use that money to buy large-print Bibles to give out."
The Grilleys brought the quilt to The Wayne Herald office for local historian Steve Gross to look over and document.
Once unfurled, the beauty and craftsmanship are evident in each stitch. The quilt is in near perfect condition and the red work has minimal fading.
What makes the quilt even more impressive is the size. 40 wagon wheels make up all but two of the blocks. The remaining two are stitched with "Wayne, Nebraska 1932" and "St. Paul's Lutheran Aid Society." Each wagon wheel consists of 16 spokes, and each is filled with a name.
Three different handwritings are discernible in the name stitching and the entire piece is hand-quilted, with 6-7 stitches per inch. Each block measures 10.5 inches across.
"This is something else," Gross said. "The time that went into this. All kinds of movers and shakers are on this quilt."
Gross went on to comment about the condition of the quilt and the fact that all the names stitched on it are easily read.
Names like Mrs. H. H. Hahn, Mrs. A. Swan, Dr. Young and Mrs. L. W. McNatt fill the spokes of each wagon wheel. Even banker Rollie Ley had his name on the quilt.
Those names and many others were well-recognized by Gross, some of which he didn't think were part of the Lutheran congregation at St. Paul's. That line of thinking has him convinced there was a celebration in town or something being commemorated with the quilt. Which is why he is delving into the history of Wayne once again to pick out any pieces that may relate to the quilt and how it came about.
One question that is likely to remain unanswered is how it ended up roughly 1,700 miles away from its home.
If only quilts could talk.
If you are interested in purchasing the quilt, please contact The Wayne Herald at 402-375-2600 and ask for the managing editor.