History in quilt form hangs on Willy T’s walls

Quilts inside of William T. Young Library on Monday, October 8th, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky

Sophie Meadors

While students are busy studying for their classes, unassuming pieces of history are looking down at them from the walls of Willy T.

Most UK students are in the midst of heavy studying for midterms, much of this studying being done in the William T. Young Library, which recently turned 20 years old. Students are so busy sticking their noses in laptops that they rarely look up to notice the quilts hanging above their heads.

Sarah Vaughn, a librarian at the Education Library in Dickey Hall, provided insight about the 64 quilts hanging along the wall and how they got there.

Twenty years ago, the UK Libraries Board was discussing what to do for artwork on the fifth floor of the soon to be dedicated William T. Young Library. A member of the board, the late Dr. Wade Hall, offered a portion of his personal collection of more than 100 quilts to be hung along the walls.

Hall, a professor of English and the humanities at Bellarmine College in Louisville, never liked to fly when he traveled, so he would always drive. Always interested in local artwork, he would stop and purchase quilts from all around the Ohio Valley Region, most of the quilts being bought within 100 miles of Lexington.

Most quilt collections are kept in pristine condition and never actually used. However, Hall’s collection was the exact opposite. Many of these quilts show signs of use and love as they have survived decades of history. Most of the quilts date back to the last century, including several that are from the Civil War and Reconstruction Era.

Since these quilts were so old, they had to get a little help in order to be ready to hang in the library. The late Helen Thompson was a quilt specialist who was brought in to appraise and prepare each quilt for display. Thompson and a group of helping quilters had to measure and document each quilt and stitch a lining on the back so they wouldn’t touch the wall. This took place in the former UK Special Collections Library, where some of the other 30-plus quilts from Hall’s collection are kept. Thompson was able to accomplish this in only 6 weeks.

While at first glance it looks like there is no rhyme or reason as to how the quilts are placed, a lot of thought went into the location of the quilts. Each wall hosts a particular type of traditional quilt pattern. For example, the south wall showcases flower type patterns while the east wall has box patterns on the quilts. Another interesting placement is that quilts patterned with stars hang along the north wall, across from the University Drive entrance, in order to provide guidance.

In Vaughn’s words, “You always need to find the North Star.” Who doesn’t need a little guidance during finals?

For more information on the quilts, look to the informational pamphlets in the library or online under Quick Facts about William T. Young Library. During the next studying trip to Willy T., take a break and look up to appreciate the history hanging on its walls.