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'Whitework' Exhibit at Kentucky Museum Spotlights Artistic and Patriotic Vision of Women

University Photographer
Clinton Lewis/Clinton Lewis/WKU
Western Kentucky University
This corded and stuffed quilt made with a blend of cotton and flax fibers was created by Temperance Wren Sharp of Paint Lick, Kentucky around 1800.

An exhibit at the Kentucky Museum on the campus of Western Kentucky University reveals how women in the Bluegrass State expressed their artistic and patriotic vision more than 200 years ago.

The unique collection is called "Whitework: Women Stitching Identity” and features pieces created between 1790-1830.

The white bedcovers with hand embroidered designs were made from cotton and flax fibers grown in Kentucky.

Textile researcher and one of the curators of the exhibit, Laurel Horton, said the bedcovers have intricate patterns, usually with flowers and vines.

“These women made them to say ‘I was here. I existed in this time and this place and I created this piece that will outlive me.’ And they have outlived them," said Horton. "So I think these women did it to express their own identity and identity as a Kentucky woman.”

The white bedspreads were created during a time when patriotic Americans were boycotting British goods.

Horton said the bedcovers were created by women at all levels of society, and some with were done in collaboration with Black Americans.

“So we have some documented evidence of Black artisans being the spinners and weavers," said Horton. "And a lot more of them probably were made of cotton that was certainly picked by enslaved people.”

Horton said this is the first time there has been an exhibit of this magnitude of just the white embroidered, woven and quilted bedcovers.

The Whitework exhibit runs through Nov. 20.

Rhonda Miller began as reporter and host for All Things Considered on WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.