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New Castle Historical Society Explores the World of Quilting

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It was quite fortuitous that the New Castle Historical Society was able to come up with the idea for its latest exhibit that opens this weekend at the Horace Greeley House in Chappaqua.

Its new president, Georgia Frasch, said the society had been keeping some beautiful quilts in its archives for years, many of which are vintage or antique. Idea started to fly, and once word was out in the community that the historical society was looking to organize an exhibit of quilts, the floodgates opened, so to speak.

“All of a sudden, just putting the word out, we had so many generous people reach out who wanted to lend us their quilts,” said Frasch. “Actually, it was more than we can use.”

The Patriotic Quilt, created in 1903, is one of about three dozen quilts that will be shown at the New Castle Historical Society’s latest exhibit, “The Art of the Quilt,” which opens Saturday at the Horace Greeley House in Chappaqua.

The exhibit, “The Art of the Quilt,” which opens on Saturday, will feature about 36 quilts dating as far back as the early 1800s right up through until about 1970. What makes them special, Frasch said, is not only the intricate handwork but what they represent.

Fascinating entries include a quilt donated for the show by heirs of the Dodge family, one of the original Quaker families that settled New Castle, Frasch said. It’s a family heirloom called “The Crazy Quilt,” made in 1895. The historical society was able to secure a $4,000 grant to have it restored.

Another captivating exhibit entry is called the “Patriotic Quilt,” which was made in 1903 by a local woman and features many of the presidents and patriotic figures until that time, along with events and places. Those items are interspersed with Bible verses, Frasch said. To top it off the quilt was done in applique.

Frasch said that the historical society has been contacted by quilting museums inquiring about whether the organization would loan the work.

Then there is an Album quilt in the exhibit, also from the late 1800s, that was created by multiple Quaker families. Each woman made one square and embedded their name in the portion of the fabric that they were responsible for.

“It’s not just pretty quilts,” Frasch said. “They’re all pretty interesting and tell the story about the women who worked on them. So we always like to have a historical tie-in.”

Quilting, which was highly popular in the 19th century, was likely a social outlet for many women at the time, she said.

“It was a way for women to come together, especially when families were moving out west in the mid-19th century and women were very isolated,” Frasch said. “It was a way of socializing and coming together.”

Frasch said it was common to find Black women quilting before and during the Civil War where they would hide messages in the material that could be used to help escaped slaves via the Underground Railroad.

On June 5, the historical society will welcome Peggy Norris, who has written two books on the history of quilting, and she will offer her insight.

The exhibit comes on the heels of one of the historical society’s most successful exhibits, the holiday train show. More than 1,600 tickets were sold for its inaugural showing, said Frasch, who mentioned that that event will recur each year.

The New Castle Historical Society is trying to branch out in its exhibits and programming to appeal to a wider portion of the community, Frasch said.

“Now we are focusing less on Horace Greeley and more about becoming a center for culture and history, especially in this area,” she said.

“The Art of the Quilt” is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting this Saturday, May 21 and extending through Sunday, June 26. Tickets are $10 and $15 and can be purchased online by visiting www.newcastlehs.org.

The Horace Greeley House is located at 100 King St. in Chappaqua.

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