When Red Hook’s Bicentennial Committee came up with the idea of commissioning a quilt to commemorate our separation from Rhinebeck, Diana Louie, who runs the Village Fabric Shoppe on West Market Street, was the natural choice to head the project. As a member of that Bicentennial Committee, let me just concede, “Easy for us to say.” The seven-month project was a huge undertaking.
The first step was deciding what should be included. “Initially,” Louie told me, “Patsy Vogel of the Egbert Benson Historical Society of Red Hook gave me a list of 25 historic buildings and I had to see which ones I could get good photographs of. I didn’t think that the picture of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, with its striking rose window, was very good so I got my husband who’s an artist and a good photographer, to take a picture of it. It was one of those beautiful, warm winter days we had this year and since he works from home, I think he was looking for any excuse to get out of the house.”
One of Red Hook’s most historically interesting buildings, the Chocolate Factory, isn’t on the quilt. According to Louie, “It’s long, low, dark building and if the whole thing was on a fabric block, it would look horrible. They considered the Hucklebush Railroad Line (so-called because it was so slow that you could hop off and pick berries as the train went by) and although the railroad was significant to Red Hook, it didn’t really work with the rest of the selections. “We also considered violets but ended up going with apples and sheep. It took a long time to decide what to include because we wanted to make sure we covered a representative range of categories: a house of worship, a government building, a firehouse, a school, and a private home.”
In addition to apples and sheep, the quilt includes St Paul’s, the First National Bank, (now the Village Hall), the Red Hook Central School, the Red Hook Public Library, the Martin/Cookingham House, Montgomery Place, the late, lamented Red Hook Hotel, the Tobacco Factory, Maizeland, and the Elmendorph Inn, as well as Tivoli’s Old Red Church and Watts de Peyster Fireman’s Hall. The Bicentennial Seal is in the center of the quilt.
“After we gathered all the usable photos, I did line drawings of each of the buildings and made tracing patterns. Then I gave each of the quilters a baggie filled with the fabric and a copy of the drawing.” In addition to Louie, the quilters, all of whom volunteered their time, were Sandra Martin, Trish Cowperthwaite, MaryAnna Egan, Evelyn Urbom, Helen Fairbarin, Deidra Thorpe-Clark, Jane Winne, Tibbie Klose, and Gail Maury. And Louie insists, “I couldn’t have done this without Patsy.”
After the quilters finished the squares, they were stitched together and sent to Teresa Husman of Prairie House Quilts in Kansas City for machine quilting. Although she lives in the Midwest now, Husman was actually raised in Red Hook. Louie knew the quality of her work from some quilts she’d done for her sister, a long-time friend and customer of the fabric shop.
Since word of the quilt and its squares has gotten out, people have been coming out of the woodwork to tell Louie their stories. “Tibbie Klose, who quilted the Red Hook Hotel, told me about how her dad and uncle used to get into trouble whenever they came home from the Elbow Room.” The Elbow Room was the bar on the side of the Red Hook Hotel so named for the action required to transfer liquor from bar to body. And Klose wasn’t the only one who had less than savory memories of the Elbow Room. Louie said she thought of making the Elbow Room’s door a different color so it stood out. “I’m kind of sorry it’s not around anymore. It sounded like quite the hangout.”
“The one square that we get the most questions about is Maizeland, the neoclassical mansion hidden behind a brick wall on West Market Street. A lot of people don’t recognize it and ask where it is. It turns out that almost everyone knows the wall but not the building. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have been possible to include both the wall and the building in one block. As if on cue, when the board of the historical society and I first saw the quilt, one member pointed to Maizeland and asked, “What’s Maizeland?”
The quilt, with its stitched rays radiating from the seal and exquisite fully dimensional representations of Red Hook’s historic buildings and history, is truly a work of art. I shouldn’t be surprised. Louie has a lifelong passion for textiles. She learned to sew from one of her grandmothers and wrote her Master’s Thesis on Dyes and Pigments of the Middle Ages. In 1990, she made a baby quilt for one of her friends which got her hooked on quilting. In addition to selling fabrics and notions, and offering workshops on everything from Hand-stitching to Therapy Sewing, Louie has a gallery that features selections from her own collection on antique and contemporary quilts.
Fortunately, given all the work involved, Louie really enjoyed the project. “It has been a really interesting project for me,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’m not a native of Red Hook and although I’ve lived here for about 15 years, it was nice to learn more about my community.”
After its unveiling on Apple Blossom Day, the official kick-off for the bicentennial celebration, the Bicentennial Quilt will be showcased at several bicentennial events. Once the celebration ends, the quilt will be on permanent display at the Red Hook Town Hall. To paraphrase Jon Stewart referring to The Book of Mormon, “if aliens come thousands of years from now and the bicentennial quilt is the only record of our celebration, I will be absolutely satisfied with that.”