Somehow it was meant to be: I invite a nice woman I meet outside Born Again Quilts to come take a gander inside and not only make a new friend but have a great quilt story to share.
This is how I met Marianne Darr Norman, a quilter, a lover of quilt history, and most importantly the keeper of many of her family’s quilts. Marianne expressed to me a dilemma she has regarding one of her most precious quilts: A 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Sears & Roebuck quilt competition entry. You may recall a few months ago, I featured a purple/green/orange Century of Progress pieced quilt in the Waynedale News. Marianne’s great-grandmother’s and Great Aunt’s quilt features a hand appliqued rendition of the Sears Building as its centerpiece and wonderful hand quilting. The quilt was most likely made from a kit as other very similar designs with similar fabric were. One is featured in Barbara Brackman and MeriKay Waldvogel’s book Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 World’s Fair.
Marianne’s great-grandmother Cathryn Elizabeth Wolford was born June 13, 1864 in Wayne Township of Kosciusko County, Indiana to William Daniel Wolford and Mary Elizabeth Hiner. She married Eugene Burns Cowic 11 Aug 1881 in Kosciusko County and they had six children with only two of them living to adulthood: Mary Cecile Cowic born 9 Sept. 1890 and Marianne’s grandmother Golda Belle Cowic, born 29 April 1897. When Cathryn’s husband Eugene died in December of 1930, she moved to Warsaw, Indiana. She and daughter Cecile now married to Raymond Samuel Finton and living in Laporte, Indiana decided to enter the quilt competition with no expectation of winning the $1000 first prize ($18,818.63 in 2018 dollars) but aimed for one of the regional $200 ($3763.73 in 2018 dollars) prizes. The mother-daughter pair now living 65 miles apart, Marianne theorizes, must have worked on it and many other quilts when Cecile and her husband came to visit.
The quilt was entered in the contest and it did not win a prize contrary to family folklore. With over 25,000 entries the odds were certainly stacked against them. The Great Depression was underway and winning any amount of money would have been a Godsend to the quilters who entered it with dreams of being the big winner. Life goes on and Cathryn passed away in 1946 and Cecile died in 1952. Her sister, Golda, now living in Baltimore, Ohio to be closer to her daughter, Willodeane Darr Luce, becomes the keeper of the family quilts until her death in 1979. In 1995 Marianne is contacted by her cousins, David and Karen Luse, to see if she wanted any family items because their mother Willodeane was in a nursing home. According to Marianne they handed her a stack of quilts and said, “One of the quilts won a prize in the World’s Fair competition; we think you should have these.” She never looked at the quilts until she returned home. She treasures them all but especially the World’s Fair one even though she highly suspects it was not a prize winner.
When I met Marianne she was mulling over the quilt’s future. She knew it had a place in history and she had the genealogy of the women who created it. I suggested she contact the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and send them photos. The museum did not have a quilt from the contest in its collection and upon review, agreed to acquire it. Marianne is thrilled that it is in good hands and thousands of art lovers will be able to view it and learn of its context to the Chicago World’s Fair and Great Depression.
To learn more about the Sears Quilt Contest and the scandals surrounding it go to: www.quilts.com/quiltscout/the-quilt-scout-scandal!-the-century-of-progress-quilt-contest.html