The pieces of a community's past and present are stitched together in a culturally emblematic pattern; the community's people, with their own unique stories and personalities, are the colors and shapes of that pattern.
The Downtown Kingsport Quilt Trail, a subset of the larger Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail, was created in coordination with the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council and the Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts and funded by the Kingsport Community Foundation to bring life to the region's cultural heritage through the display of colorfully-painted quilt squares grafted from antique quilts sewn by Kingsport citizens.
“The Downtown Kingsport Quilt Trail connects community history and Appalachian arts,” said Emily Bidgood, project coordinator for the Appalachian RC&D Council. “I think both the downtown quilt trail and the larger quilt trail are just all about keeping the character of our communities that we value.”
The downtown quilt trail, in connecting the town's modern urban center to its rural past, is comprised of 18 different quilt squares mounted on frames constructed by Sullivan South High School students and hung on the outside of buildings in and around the downtown area including Netherland Inn, Lynn View and the Farmer's Market. Businesses, like antique stores, art galleries, restaurants, public buildings and even a motorcycle shop, host quilt squares in support of the local community.
“If visitors want, they can walk and tour all the quilt squares in the downtown trail and see parts of downtown that they may have not seen before and learn about different families and find interesting businesses to patronize,” Bidgood explained.
The roughly 10 volunteers who contributed a combined 1,000 hours of their time gathering supplies, designing and painting the trail's squares formed their own sense of community, building an unexpected bond as close as the stitches in the quilts.
Quilt trail volunteer Jill Parsons said she learned family stories and gained what she hopes will be “lifelong” friends through the experience.
“It just was a really fun project,” she said, with “such a kind network of volunteers.”
Parsons said she became involved in the community-based venture in the spring of 2012 after reading an article in the paper requesting antique quilts be brought downtown so that they could decide which ones they were going to use [for the squares].
An estimated 55 quilts, along with Parsons' selections, were submitted for approval to Mary Faulkner, board member of the RC&D Council, who took pictures and maintained the records for the quilt call. She, along with others, narrowed the number down to the ones, Bidgood said, that “would become the trail.”
Parsons said two of her grandmother Pauline Taylor's quilts were chosen and she grafted and painted the corresponding trail squares. One of the designs, “tumbling blocks,” hangs at The Bagel Exchange, while the other - a variation of “the grandmother's flower garden” - will be the 19th (and final) square in the trail to hang in front of Ward's Feed Store.
They wanted quilt designs by people who had a tie to the community, Parsons said, and my grandmother “was one of the original people who started the Farmer's Market downtown.”
Pauline Taylor was born in 1918 and raised on a sharecropper farm off of what is now Stone Drive in Kingsport. From early childhood, it was clear her most defining character trait was determination.
“If she didn't know how to do something, she taught herself,” Parsons said. “She taught herself to sew by sewing her siblings' clothes and she taught herself to cook to feed the sharecropper families.”
Taylor enjoyed sewing and grew very proficient in her skill, sewing clothes like Parson's wedding gown with “very precise, tiny stitches.” However, Parsons said, “quilting was her true love.”
Taylor was very particular of stitches, even in her own mother's quilting.
“They would quilt all during the winter and if my grandmother didn't approve of her mother's stitches, she would take them out and do them over,” Parsons said laughing.
Taylor worked as treasurer of Kingsport's Reedy Creek Presbyterian Church for many years, as well as in the nursery at Holston Valley Hospital. She was an active member of many local community groups including the Kingsport Bowling League.
Pauline Taylor was a community staple in her own right and one of the many faces behind the stitch-inspired quilt squares of the downtown trail.
To learn more stories behind the stitches, to sign up for the email list or for a Google map link to follow the Downtown Kingsport Quilt Trail, visit http://www.quilttrail.org.
To help continue the trail (mostly all volunteer-run) and in celebration of the Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail's 10th Anniversary, two fundraising events will be held soon: a Farm-to-Table Dinner and Wine Tasting on Oct. 11 and an Open House on the Quilt Trail on Oct. 12. For tickets, call 423-979-2581 or visit www.quilttrail.org.