Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The world renowned Reconciliation Quilt has come to Homestead National Monument of America from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is on display at the park’s Heritage Center through mid-June.
Lucinda Ward Honstain of Brooklyn, New York, constructed this exquisite quilt in 1867 shortly after the Civil War. The United States was deeply fractured and in a state of flux as the people were left to put the pieces of a broken nation back together. The task was monumental in that both North and South had suffered unimaginable losses.
The Civil War left over 600,000 dead, families torn apart, communities destroyed, and towns razed by the destructive nature of endless battle. What was left was a worn and torn nation tasked with rebuilding the physical landscape and healing the personal wounds of tragedy and suffering. The healing began immediately, but competing visions emerged as to how restoration would occur. The United States officially entered the period known as Reconstruction.
Reconstruction would endure from the end of the Civil War until official ending in 1877. Two distinct periods marked this era. The first attempt at Reconstruction saw a more passive attitude by lawmakers, allowing amnesty for those who had fought in the Confederacy. It was during this first year after the Civil War that the Reconciliation Quilt was made.
Honstain captured this political and social nuance with a quilt block depicting former President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis being released from jail and reuniting with his daughter. This event would have been highly publicized and galvanizing for those who sought harsher punishments for the Confederates.
Those individuals seeking harsher punishments for the rebellious South were known as Radical Reconstructionists. These individuals sought extensive penalties for the treasonous rebellion and wanted to immediately elevate the freedmen as equals in society. Again, Honstain captures this increasingly dominant spirit in her quilt with blocks showing African Americans involved in entrepreneurial activities. One block even depicts a freedman disproportionately larger than his former master telling him “I am Free”.
Honstain had the unique ability to gauge the prevailing attitudes of the country and capture them in a visual format. The quilt consists of 40 unique blocks depicting scenes of hope and compassion as the country began to reunite. The bright and vibrant colors reflect the nation’s optimism as the United States was moving past its darkest years. The quilt is a timeless piece of American folk art, shown only on a limited basis.