Ruth McKendry's quilt collection, 29 Dec 1979 (2)
a native of Lancaster, Ont., who has collected Canadian quilts and coverlets coverlets for over 30 years. "I worked from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day for three years. I hunted up first-hand first-hand first-hand accounts of the quilts' histories, I talked to as many old people as 1 could and researched in early newspapers and diaries and letters. I even looked at account books from stores to see their records records of cloth and batting that was sold." A national treasure During all her years as a collector, collector, McKendry bought 315 quilts and coverlets which she sold last year to the National Museum of Man; in November, 1979, Secretary of State David MacDonald declared the collection collection a national treasure. On Jan- Jan- Ruth McKendry, surrounded by some favorite works, has just published uary 24, at 7:30 p.m., she will open an exhibition of 35 of these works. As soon as she sold her collection Ruth Mckendry began a new one, and now she has about 35 quilts and coverlets at her farmhouse farmhouse studio in Latimer, Ont., near Kingston. "I will still buy a quilt if I think no one else will buy it," she admitted, giving away the clue to her obsession with this art form. Ruth McKendry's real concern is the story of the woman behind each quilt, and the families who used them. "I am interested in the 19th century century country woman. She was so different from many prim Victorian women. Her life was very hard but she had a great appreciation of beauty and was interested in keeping keeping the family comfortable." No matter how poor these pioneer women were, they made exquisite quilts from simple homespun fabrics, fabrics, and nothing saddens McKendry more than seeing old quilts, homespun homespun coverlets, broken spinning wheels and crumpled linens lying in heaps at country auctions. McKendry decided someone should record "the love and labor that went into the making of these Ontario bedcovers before their history history was lost forever." Her favorite quilts are the simple, everyday ones because she believes there is more spontaneous and exuberant exuberant use of color. Women didn't hesitate to pick up scraps of material material lying around, and the results were surprisingly original and bright. (There are several patterns she dislikes, including the popular Sun-bonnet Sun-bonnet Sun-bonnet Sue. "I hate that one," said Mckendry vehemently. "The worst of all is the colonial lady in her poke bonnet, it's not even cute." She also dislikes the popular Dresden plate pattern."Nine-tenths pattern."Nine-tenths pattern."Nine-tenths of the people love it and I hate to hurt their feelings.") feelings.") The best examples of fancy, 'planned' quilts are the 'brides' a book on Ontario quilts quilts, often made in Rose of Sharon patterns and only used for special occasions. These are the ones that have come down through generations generations in the best condition, and there are some poignant stories attached to many of them. One of the saddest was the story of the Merkley sisters from Willans-burg Willans-burg Willans-burg in Dundas County. The parents, Eli and Almita "Merkley, settled there in 1850 and had 11 children, eight of them girls. Only one daughter married. When the last sister died in 1971, a niece found 1 15 quilts in perfect condition, neatly folded in trunks in an attic. This was an incredible discovery, but sadly. and coverlets. the collection did not stay together it was sold to a dealer, shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1971 and then sold to different buyers. Few quilts and coverlets survive in such good condition "The best ones came from spinsters like the Merkley sisters even if they never married they would not part with their marriage quilts," explained McKendry. Now McKendry hopes to start another project soon, a book on things made for her home by her favorite heroine, the 19th century woman.