Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Piecing Together the Past

As with many Texas main streets, if you imagined the
cars gone and squinted while looking down the street,
 you can almost see the horse and
buggies and cowboys riding through. 
While I haven't fallen off the planet entirely, I did spend the past week visiting with family in the Lone Star State (even though I know some might consider Texas another planet). I have been doing a lot at home, traveling some, and overall trying to "regroup." During this past week, my grandmother, mother, and I trekked over to a quilt shop in Clyde. My grandmother could be considered a "regular" there and my mother's drug is fabric (in another lifetime, I was a fashion design major and still have a thing for textiles... it runs in the family). The excursion reminded me about the significance of place and how history is preserved.

The Feathered Star Quilt Shop is housed in a brick building along a main street. If you weren't looking for it, you would likely pass by and miss it. The building has a history as the town has a history. Fortunately, the owner of the shop took it upon herself to maintain many of the historical pieces of the place's history throughout her shop.

Among the fabrics and quilting machines are tucked historic
photographs and other memorabilia of Clyde.
Memorabilia includes an old stained glass window from a local church.
I especially appreciated the shop owner's passion infused with the place itself. Quilts and historical glimpses adorn the walls. The pictures would have little meaning without the stories attached to them. The brick and mortar would stand only as cold walls without the human history associated with them. Her attention to detail helped created a meaningful place. The business itself contributed to a historically-linked craft while the shop serves as a place for stories to be shared and preserved.

This USPS cancellation stamp had all the metal parts,
including dates from the first half of the twentieth century.
In some respects, the owner isn't that much different than an interpreter. Visitors to the shop can ask and learn about fabric lines, measurements of quilts, or "how-tos" of a variety of quilting-related tasks. If visitors express interest, they also have the opportunity to experience the history of the place. Threads of each story (no pun intended) can be pulled out to stand as its own or woven into a greater narrative about a small west Texas town. 

Isn't that what historians do? We find pieces from the past and fit them in with today's understanding? We make use of the "stuff" of the past (my fancy degree calls it "cultural resources" but "stuff" seemingly works, too) and piece it together to create a larger picture of the past. This place caught my by surprise, for I was expecting a quilt shop not necessarily an undercover museum. It reminded me that the definition of "historic sites" is much broader than how I often use it.

What good is history if people don't connect to it?

*I refrained from using too many quilting analogies and puns. You're welcome.