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Tarble Arts Center Quilts Collection

June 4 - August 14, 2005


All of the quilts in the Tarble Arts Center's Folk Arts Collection form the core of this summer's exhibition at Eastern Illinois University. The exhibition, titled Quilts, Rugs and Cushions From the Folk Arts Collection, runs through August 14, 2005 in the main galleries. Admission is free and the public is invited to see the exhibition. (right: Cora Meek (Mattoon, 1889-2001), Embroidered Denim quilt, (signed "100 age"), 1989, denim scraps & embroidery thread. Purchase, Illinois Arts Council Partners-in-Purchase Grant & Gift of Phillip & Nell Settle, Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection)

The quilts range from an outstanding example of a red and green appliqué quilt circa 1840 to the recently completed Tarble Arts Center Teaching Quilt created especially for the Tarble by members of Quiltworks. The exhibition also includes an overshot coverlet, rugs, pillows, and seat cushions dating from the early to late-20th century.

Perhaps the most unusual piece in the exhibition is an unfinished Barn Raising Log Cabin quilt top by Elvia Tarble, the mother of Newton E. Tarble. Elvia Baker Tarble was the mother of Newton E. Tarble, the benefactor for whom the Tarble Arts Center is named. Born in New Hampshire in 1860, Elvia came to Illinois in 1868 as an orphan to live near Casey with relatives. Elvia Baker married Martin A. Tarble in 1881. Together they raised six children at the Tarble home near Martinsville, Illinois, where Elvia lived until her husband died in 1923. The quilt was started while Elvia Tarble was convalescing from a broken hip. Complications set in, from which she never recovered. The quilt top's edges remain unfinished as they were at the time of Elvia Baker Tarble's death in 1932.

Making up the bulk of the exhibition are pieces by the Mattoon quilter Cora Meek. Born in 1898, Meek did not gain attention as a folk artist until she was in her 90s. She received an Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship Award at the age of 101. Meek's quilts are included in the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. In the Tarble exhibition are crazy quilts, embroidered denim quilts, and quilts made from satin funeral ribbons. Meek died in Charleston at the age of 111.

Also exhibited is a circa 1930s star pattern quilt is reported to have come from Oakland, Illinois. Illinois Amish pieces include a wool quilt and a seat cushion circa 1910 by Katie Kauffman, another early 20th wool quilt by an unknown maker, and a crib quilt by Eliza Schrock from 1984.

Pieces collected as a result of the National Endowment for the Arts-funded folk arts surveys conducted by the EIU College of Fine Arts in the late 1970s and early 1980s are: quilts by Virginia Buckner (Decatur) and Louise Hageman (Danville); a coverlet by Charlotte Baker (Charleston); rugsby Helen Albin (Decatur), Iline Clark (Mattoon), Zora Moore (Oakland), the Macon County Historical Society Woman's Folk Art Group, Alice Sturgell (Elbridge), Lola E. Wade (Ingraham), a braided chair cushion by Albin; and pillows by Hageman and Brose Phillips (Harrisburg). The rugs are hooked, crocheted, braided, woven and stitched.

The works on exhibition were acquired through donations from Quiltworks, Nell Settle and Earl Tarble, and Louise Hageman, with purchases made through donations from Nell and Philip Settle, Tarble membership contributions, and grants from the Charles E. Merrill Trust and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. Many of the Meek quilts are on extended loan from the artist's estate.

Elvia Baker Tarble

Elvia Baker Tarble was the mother of Newton E. Tarble, the benefactor for whom the Tarble Arts Center is named. She was born in New Hampshire in 1860. Elvia came to Illinois in 1868 with her brother Austin, as orphans, to live near Casey with an aunt and uncle, Ann and Ruben Matheny. A few years later Elvia and Austin went to live with the family of James Soward. Elvia Baker married Martin A. Tarble in 1881, and together they raised six children at the Tarble home near Martinsville, Illinois. She lived at the Tarble home until her husband died in 1923. (right: Elvia Baker Tarble (New Hampshire, 1860-1932, Illinois) Barn Raising Log Cabin quilt, 1932, cotton fabric scraps. Gift of Earl Tarble, Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection)

This quilt was started while Elvia Tarble was convalescing from a broken hip. Complications set in, from which she never recovered. The quilt's edges remain unfinished as they were at the time of Elvia Baker Tarble's death in 1932. The pattern is a variation of the traditional Log Cabin quilt design called Barn Raising, with the quilt pieced to form a very striking black diamond pattern. The quilt went to her son George, with whose family she was staying at the time of her convalescence. The quilt was passed from George Tarble to his son Max, and from Max Tarble to his son Earl, who donated it to the Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection in honor and memory of his great-grandmother and his granduncle, Newton Tarble. A number of documents and related artifacts from Elvia Tarble and her family were donated to the Folk Arts Archives by Max and Miriam Tarble in conjunction with the gift of the quilt.


About the Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection and Archives

Eastern Illinois University began to actively collect examples of Illinois folk arts in 1976 through the College of Fine Arts. The impetus and basis for the Folk Arts Collection came from three surveys of east-central and southeastern Illinois folk artists, conducted between 1976 and 1985, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding to purchase contemporary Illinois folk art was made possible through two grants from the Charles E. Merrill Trust, based on the survey information.

The Folk Arts Collection, survey data, and archival materials have been housed in the Tarble Arts Center since its opening in 1982. The collection has been added to through gifts and grants, and works by Illinois artists continue to be sought for the collection, especially contemporary works from artists living in east-central and southeastern Illinois.

Sub-collections include the Ferd Metten Collection (carvings and assemblages), the Buzzard Textile Collection, Famous Black American Dolls by I. Roberta Bell, the First Lady Doll Collection by Leta C. Whitacre, and the Burl Ives Cane Collection. Notable artists represented in the collection include Jennie Cell (paintings), Cora Meek (embriodered quilts and rugs), Lee Godie (drawing), and Arthur Walker (carvings and assemblages)

In selecting works for the collection, the definition of the term "folk arts" used is: an object created by a non-academically trained artist that connotes some form of individual expression, and that also represents the shared aesthetic traditions of an ethnic or religious group, family, community or geographic area. Usually such art is passed transgenerationally (parent to child, or master to apprentice), and often comes from a craft tradition, rather than a fine arts tradition.

Many works illustrate traditions carried from peoples of the Upland South and Yankee North who settled in eastern and southern Illinois. From the Upland Southern tradition are woven rag rugs, bi-lobed baskets, and bent-stick furniture. From the Yankee tradition are hooked rugs, baskets done on crossed-hoop frames, fish decoys, and apple-head dolls. Also in the collection is a scale replica of an 1830's log tavern, similar to the type found along the National Road which at one time ended in Vandalia, Illinois, and brought travelers to the area from the North and South. There is little to demonstrate ethnic diversity in the Folk Arts Collection, except for some carvings by the Ferd Metten which reflect his German Catholic roots, examples of Pysansky (Ukranian egg decorating), and some Northern European bobbin lace. The Amish from the area are represented by quilts, leather work, and blacksmithing, and documented through a self-contained free-standing photo-panel exhibit, The Amish of Illinois . Nearly all of the objects in the Folk Arts Collection speak to the traditions and values of the rural Midwest. [1]



1. The text "About the Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection and Archives" is courtesy of the Tarble's "Collections & Archives" web page.

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