A Bit of Central Asia in Nebraska
Volume XII, Issue Three | September 2017 Two years ago in Istanbul, Mehmet, the proprietor of The Columns, a shop near the Arasta Bazaar, introduced my daughter Dana and me to another American woman, Chris Martens. Because the store stocked pillows and wall hangings and fabric, Chris and I began talking about textiles. Sooner or later, of course, the talk turned to quilts, and we discovered a mutual love for them. I told her I sometimes wrote about quilts, and Chris revealed she was working on a show of Central Asian quilts for the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.
She invited Dana and me to have tea with her the next day in the Grand Bazaar. First she took us into a shop to show us antique Asian quilts and clothing and decorative cloth objects; I remember a quilted silk robe that was for sale for several thousand dollars. Then she led us to a little-known rooftop garden surrounded by antiques shop. There, under a grape arbor, the three of us drank tea, while Chris showed us the quilt she was repairing.
Little surprise that after such an interesting afternoon (one of our favorite memories of the trip), I felt compelled to drive 500 miles to Lincoln to see the Quilt Study Center show when it opened last June.
All I can say is, “Wow!” In fact, that’s what Bob (who is not into textiles) said when we walked into the gallery and saw the bright red tent hanging with its border of patchwork squares on the wall in front of us. Bright pillows and quilts and a felted rug were arranged on the floor in front of it. I felt as if I had stumbled into a shop in ancient Asia.
The show, “Sacred Scraps: Quilt and Patchwork Traditions of Central Asia,” will be open through Dec. 16, and I hope if you’re anywhere near Lincoln, you’ll see it. In fact, if you’re not near Lincoln, you’ll find it worth the trip. At least view it on the Museum’s website, www.quiltstudycenter.org.
Chris spent eight years collecting textiles for the show, which is a rich mix of cultures and influences. The items represent upper class traditions as well as the daily life of indigenous peoples. Many of the textiles are old, but some are relatively new. In fact, when I told my nephew’s wife, Repsina, about the show, she said she remembered the bright quilts used by her family when she was growing up in Turkmenistan.
In her talk, which was informative, not erudite, Chris said that red is the favorite color used in the quilts. The people of Central Asia believe in the power of scraps of fabric to protect babies from evil spirits. Traditionally, 40 days after a child’s birth, a mother gathers bits of fabric from 40 neighbors and friends to make a talismanic shirt. Or she collects the scraps from seven neighbors who are wealthy or have healthy children. These scraps are cut into shapes and pieced together, then attached to a dress or bib as amulets. Before dressing the baby in the new clothing, the mother bathes the child in water containing salt, sugar, earth, meat, juniper wood, and gold to make sure all the baby’s needs will be met. She also foregoes hemming the bottoms of dresses and shirts for fear of stunting the child’s growth.
Quilts were important for girls, of course, since their dowries included mattresses and pillows as well as bedding. Quilts were also part of a male tradition. Leading to a circumcision ceremony for boys as old as seven (ouch!), family and friends sewed quilts and pillows for the event.
The show was a diverse collection of brilliantly colored textiles. Bob’s favorite was the pieced palanquin, a huge dome-like structure that covered the bride as she rode a camel to her new husband’s home. My favorite was the quilt made of pieced squares alternating with patches of flowered red fabric that I saw Chris working on under the grape arbor in the Grand Bazaar. What a thrill to see this humble piece of bedding hanging as a work of art. —SD
America’s First Homestead!
The drive to Lincoln was a productive one. First we stopped at Fort Kearny. (Like many other writers, I’ve been spelling the fort’s name wrong. It’s Fort Kearny. The town is Kearney, Nebraska. Don’t ask why.) Then we went to the National Homestead Museum, which is on the site of America’s first homestead. Tradition says the homesteader persuaded the government clerk to open the office a minute past midnight so that he could be the first in the country to file. I loved the display of farm equipment and videos that explained their use, since I generally fudge such things in my writing. Even more intriguing was the hewn log cabin, which is not the original cabin on the site but one that was hauled there. The cabin is about the size of my office. Twelve persons once lived there.
A Paris All Your Own Edited by Eleanor Brown. Putnam.
When my daughter and I were in Paris several years ago, we were approached by a poorly dressed woman outside a museum. She had stooped down, swept her hand across the sidewalk, and now she held out a ring and asked if we had lost it. “Solid gold,” she said. We told her it wasn’t ours, but she persisted. She tried it on her finger and said the ring was too small, then she grasped my hand and placed the ring in my palm, folding my fingers around it. I tried to return it, and when she wouldn’t take it, I told her to leave it inside the nearby museum where someone could claim it. She refused, and frustrated, we told her we would leave it in the museum for her. As we walked toward the building, the woman demanded money.
Rachel Hore, author of “A Week in Paris” ran into the same scam, but she was more astute than I. She turned the incident into a short story as well as an essay in A Paris All Your Own.
The book, edited by Denver author Eleanor Brown, is a collection of reminiscences about Paris, written by 18 female novelists who have set books in the city. These women are the authors of best-selling mysteries, romances, chick lit and mainstream novels.
The Death of an Heir By Philip Jett. St. Martin’s Press.
When I was at Business Week, I wrote a number of stories about the Adolph Coors Co., the Golden, Colo., brewery. In fact, I was the first to write a national news article with the cooperation of brewery owners Bill and Joe Coors. But I never wrote a story about the most compelling event in the company’s history. That was the kidnapping and murder of Adolph Coors III, chairman and grandson of the founder.
In 1960, Ad Coors was waylaid by Joseph Corbett Jr., an escaped felon who had once been a Fulbright Scholar. Corbett had blocked the road with his car, and when Coors stopped to see if he could help, Corbett pulled out a gun, the two struggled, and Coors was shot twice in the back.
Corbett mailed a ransom note but never followed up on it. The FBI took only days to identify him as the culprit, but by then, Corbett had disappeared. Coors’ body was found months later in a dump. Corbett was eventually apprehended in Canada after a reader spotted his likeness in a Readers Digest article.
The kidnap, murder, trial, and aftermath are discussed at length in “The Death of an Heir.” There are interesting little tidbits—Ad Coors was actually allergic to beer. The first Adolph Coors committed suicide, and authorities foiled a kidnapping attempt on Adolph Jr. The book is marred, however, by made-up dialogue. That style is “creative nonfiction,” a genre I don’t like. Apart from that, it’s a good read. —SD