Three quilts that have travelled untold miles and time arrived at Don Brown’s West Des Moines garage earlier this year, raising more questions than answers about their amazing journey.
Brown was cleaning out his mother’s storage unit in Des Moines that was filled with his aunt’s belongings since 1998 when he discovered a container carefully packed with three handmade quilts.
“When I looked at them, I was taken by surprise. It was an immediate step back in time to my grandmother’s house in Fort Dodge,” he says. “When I saw the artistry and the intricacy of the designs, I felt honored to see them. My second sensory awareness was the smell. They had been stored with dryer sheets because someone wanted them to be preserved.”
Brown says he has no idea how old the quilts are, but it’s likely that his grandmother made them decades ago.
“They’re probably something my mother grew up with, and she’s 93,” he says.
Two of the quilts feature an array of colors and designs, and Brown says he appreciates the workmanship that went into making each one of them.
“When you think about how old they must be, and the time put into them, and how scraps of fabric were used to make them, it’s pretty amazing,” he says.
The timing of their discovery is quite coincidental to Brown. His wife is currently making a quilt to be donated for an auction to be held this month by the Gnemeth Lodge #577 A.F. & A.M. in West Des Moines, of which Brown is the first African-American member.
Also of note, Brown’s nephew, a professional jazz drummer who lives and works in New York, recently released a solo album entitled “Transcendence” that is garnering positive reviews nationwide. The album features a historic photo of women making a quilt, which represents the album’s musical tapestry of African-American spirituals, East Indian concepts, electronic textures, acoustic jazz and blues.
“When I showed my nephew and his wife the quilts after his album was released, they were totally impressed,” says Brown, who plans to share them with family and possibly the public.
“It’s artwork,” he says. “There are lessons with them in African-American history in Iowa, in quilting history and in art history. When you think about what could have happened to them, I feel fortunate to have found them.”
Contact Darren at 953-4822 ext. 304 or d to recommend someone for an upcoming issue of “What’s In Your Garage?”