Names Among the Threads: Early American Coverlets
February 1 - April 27, 2024

A coverlet is a lightweight woven bedcover that is mostly used as a decorative outer layer. Coverlets feature a variety of attractive patterns and are made from common fabrics like cotton, linen, and wool. These differ from quilts in both their construction and design. While a quilt is made with multiple layers of pre-existing fabric, a coverlet is woven directly on a loom, sometimes in two panels and then stitched together down a middle seam. The pattern is woven directly into the construction of the coverlet.

In the southern states, coverlets were very popular during the early 1800s through the turn of the 20th century. Several individuals served as professional weavers for their local communities or would travel across the region as itinerant weavers. Wealthier families or those who did not have their own household loom would commission professional weavers to produce coverlets and other textiles. Often times, the traveling weaver would be provided room and board in exchange for their services.

Documentation on the creation and provenance of coverlets is rare. Finding inscriptions helps provide insight into the history of these textile heirlooms and their place in rural early American life. The production of handmade coverlets declined around the beginning of the 20th century as machine-made textiles became more available and affordable. However, many communities in Appalachia strive to keep this tradition alive, as textiles like coverlets and quilts are woven into family identity.


Appalachian Chair Caning
December 5, 2023 - January 26, 2024

“Caning” is a term used to describe a variety of woven furniture styles including hole-to-hole (rattan), wide binding (porch cane), fiber rush, flat reed, and modern cord. Caning designs can be found in chairs, stools, benches, and even as decorative elements on doors and ceiling fans. The practice dates back to ancient Egypt and spread across the globe during the 19th century. In the Appalachian region, craftsmen work hard to keep the traditional practice alive today.

Many of the chairs in our collection are traditional Shaker style ladderback chairs. The well-known religious sect, which originated in England in 1747, emigrated to the United States during the 1770s, bringing with them their identifiable furniture design. The overall shape of the Shaker chair is very simple with little ornamentation, but the seat varies in material and design. Many chair seats were crafted with cloth, fiber rush, and wide binding.

Shaker furniture in general was very utilitarian in their design and was built to last generations. The chairs were made to be lightweight so they could easily hang on the wall while in storage. Some were given a simple coat of paint instead of decorative elements. Common colors include green, blue, red, and yellow.

Two chairs in the exhibit have traditional 19th century rattan seats. This style is largely associated with western European countries like England and France. Caning did not originate in these countries, however. Rattan caning techniques were learned during trade with Asia and the colonization of countries like India and Indonesia. This style then spread to the United States through Colonial England.


2023 Annual Quilt Show: Sew Many Quilts
October 3 - October 28, 2023

Eighteenth Century Fashion
June 12 - September 15, 2023

Anna Puckett Bester: The American Revolution Re-enactment Years

 Anna and her family settled in Columbia, South Carolina in the mid-1970s. There they found themselves actively involved in the living history group known as the “Second Regiment South Carolina Line Continental Establishment.” The infantry regiment was created for the United States Bicentennial, a 200th Anniversary celebration of the creation of the United States of America as an independent republic. The 2nd South Regiment became the official living history group for the state of South Carolina.

It was within this re-enactment group that Anna’s sewing expertise, historical clothing design, and cooking skills would be put to good use. The 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia was held in October of 1981. Anna’s job was to make sure their regiment was properly clothed for the week-long event. Two sets of clothing were required for each soldier and their family members. During each battlefield re-enactment, Anna would explain the life of a soldier’s wife and family traveling under the protection of General George Washington’s Army from the British troops and Tory raiders.

All of the 18th Century clothing seen in this exhibit, with the exception of General Washington’s coat, was lovingly made by Ms. Anna. Here you will see ladies’ well-worn day dresses, beautiful formal gowns, a 2nd South Regiment soldier’s uniform, and various gentlemen’s attire.


Kristy Moeller Ottinger: A New Way to Tell an Old Story
January 14 - April 14, 2023

Artist Statement

I am a fiber artist focusing on creating narrative wall hangings celebrating spirituality and encouraging the love of worship through my colorful, textural, quirky style. These quilts are stories from the book of Daniel and how God rescues in time of trouble. 


Kristy Moeller Ottinger was born in Tipton, Indiana. She is the eldest of two girls born to Herbert and Lucy Moeller, who raised their children to be resourceful and—it turns out—creative. If they wanted something, they were encouraged to create it themselves. Making was a part of life in the Moeller household, where Herbert was a cabinetmaker and Lucy a dressmaker. At the tender age of nine, Ottinger began learning the sewing skills that would lead to her eventual focus on fiber art. A lifelong learner, Ottinger earned degrees in Bible, education, and art. She taught elementary school art until 2016, when she left to pursue her art full time. 

Best known for her narrative art quilts, Ottinger embellishes her work, using found objects, mixed media, embroidery, paint, and sometimes writing. As she moved through her formal art education, Ottinger dabbled in other media, eventually earning an MFA in painting. But a 1994 scholarship to Burren College of Art in Ireland introduced her to an Irish quilter who provided bits of silk for her first art quilt. Her first love reawakened; Kristy became a fiber artist. Now, her exquisitely detailed narrative quilts show her meticulous sewing skill, as well as demonstrating her talent for incorporating any mixed media that enhances the stories told by her pieces.


The Rosenwald Schools: A History of African American Education in Tennessee
February 1 - March 31, 2023

Between 1912 and 1932, the Rosenwald Project constructed 4,978 schools in rural African American communities throughout the southern United States. This project was developed through the partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington. Rosenwald, a Jewish-American philanthropist and president of Sears founded the Rosenwald Fund for “the well-being of mankind.” Booker T. Washington, a former slave, was the first president of the Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University, in Tuskegee, Alabama.

During the segregation era, African American schools were severely underfunded, especially in the south. The Rosenwald Project helped build schools for these communities in eleven states including Tennessee. More than $4 million from the Rosenwald Fund was given on the condition that local communities raise matching grants. African American communities contributed a total of $4.8 million to help construct 5,338 schools, shops, and teacher homes throughout the South including McMinn County. View this exhibit here: Rosenwald Schools

Pioneer Christmas
November 22, 2022 - January 6, 2023

Pioneer settlers in rural areas were limited in what they had available to use as Christmas decorations, and they usually decorated on Christmas Eve. The concept of the Christmas tree wasn’t adopted by early Americans until the early 1800s, a tradition brought over from Germany. Everything was handmade using greenery, dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, and candies. Dried orange slices and strings of popcorn were hung on the tree. Garland was decorated with berries and pinecones, and candles were placed on windowsills. Hand-knitted stockings lined the fireplace filled with homemade treats and toys.

Most gifts were very practical items such as mittens, scarves, or a hat to keep you warm during the coming months. Young children might receive handmade toys such as a cornhusk doll or wooden rocking horse handmade by their parents. Fruits like apples and oranges were also common presents. Gifts were rarely wrapped, but when they were, they would be bundled in fabric or plain paper. They were then placed under the tree or sometimes hung from the tree branches.

On Christmas Day, families prepared a festive dinner that reflected local culture and traditions. Freshly baked bread, roast turkey, and plum pudding were staples on many family tables. Oysters, coffee, and chocolate were special treats in rural areas in the south, and the aroma of roasted chestnuts filled homes during the holiday season.


2022 Annual Quilt Show: Celebrating 40 Years of History
October 1 - October 31, 2022

Women's Handiwork: White on White
August 4 - September 30, 2022

During the nineteenth century, women learned to sew and knit from a very young age. Girls were taught by their mothers or grandmothers beginning around the age of four or five. Practice makes perfect, so they had daily needlework lessons to enhance their sewing skills. These lessons were essential because women were expected to sew their family’s clothing and household linens.

Sewing was a very time consuming task. First, the fiber (cotton, wool, or flax) had to be spun into yarn. This was done using a spinning wheel, which was a staple in many households during the 1800s. Dying yarn added even more time and money, so it was often left natural or bleached white using various methods. Once, the sewing machine was invented in 1845, women were able to create delicate designs in much less time.

One popular type of needlework from the Victorian Era is whitework embroidery, which is done with white thread on white linen or cotton. The origins of this style of sewing stems from decorative items used for religious purposes. Whitework embroidery soon spread to middle-class families, who used it for bonnets, dresses, and various household linens including quilts. Hardanger, cutwork, drawn thread, and candlewick are popular types of whitework embroidery.

The Museum’s extensive textile collection includes many fine examples of whitework from the 1800s and early 1900s. This exhibit showcases quilts, dresses, accessories, and other household textiles.


Johnny McGrew: Consummate Craftsman
May 3 - July 31, 2022

With nearly 40 years of wood crafting experience, Johnny McGrew was the consummate craftsman. Influenced by local cabinet maker Walter Vincent, McGrew developed a successful creative career making furniture, musical instruments, and other hand carved figurines. His materials of choice included cherry, walnut, and maple. As his reputation continued to grow, McGrew’s extraordinary talent was featured in several magazines, television programs, and newspaper articles.

McGrew’s unique figurines have sold all over the world. A collection of his Christmas ornaments was chosen to be displayed on the White House Christmas Tree. Two of his Patriotic Santa Claus carvings were given to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The Museum is honored to hold several of McGrew’s pieces in our permanent collection, which are on display in the Folk Art exhibit. Wood working was his life’s work, and the fine pieces McGrew crafted will remain collectible for many years to come.


Celebrating Black History Month: Lucile Smith
February 1 - April 29, 2022

A native of McMinn County, Lucile Smith (1910-2002)  was a prominent African American folk artist who began painting as a hobby in her early twenties. Smith enjoyed painting flowers, cabins, horses, waterfalls, and various religious scenes. Religion influenced much of her work, and she often depicted scenes of angels and the devil appearing at one’s deathbed. Despite not always having money to purchase high quality art materials like oil paints and canvas, Smith was resourceful and used any materials she could find including markers, posterboard, and glitter.
Smith did not consider a career in art until a friend suggested that she enter her work in an exhibit for the Community Artist League of Athens. Her painting “Carry Me Home” won second place. Following this exhibit, Smith began regularly selling her artwork. Smith’s work has been displayed in many locations around Tennessee including the University of Tennessee.