By Tara Voigt Kohlenberg —
History is shared in many formats including art, the printed word and personal stories handed down from one generation to another. Quilts are special commemoratives given for births, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries or to someone who is moving away. Quilts are art. While more practical and useful than an oil painting, some quilts use textiles to paint pictures documenting people, places or events.
Every 25 years, New Braunfels has celebrated its founding and traditionally marked the occasion with a permanent symbol of historic importance. Fundraisers are required to support those projects. For the 150th Anniversary or Sesquicentennial, quilts were selected as one of the fundraisers, as well as, a way for the community to participate and to leave something behind to mark the occasion.
In 1993, two years before the 150th Anniversary, the Sesquicentennial Quilt Committee was formed. Bobbie Purdom, Historical Advisory Committee Chair, named Nell Morton and Mary Ann Thompson co-chairs of the Quilt Committee. Their project was to enlist the community to create three complete historically themed quilts; one to raffle and two for museums. They set about organizing The Pictorial Quilt Block Contest of historical places/events in New Braunfels.
Mission Valley Mills supplied the plaid fabrics for the contest. The fabrics were cut and packaged in bags with instructions. Contest rules required that each contestant: use only the fabric provided in their packet, hand-piece the square, and create an original design and pattern. But what to put in a quilt design? If you could choose a few of your most prized images or icons that represent your life’s journey and assembled them all into one place, what would you see? Mine might include a Unicorn and a Double T for starters, but telling my story in a dozen pictures would take some thought. What about the story of New Braunfels? That is what the Quilt Committee had to come up with.
Topics suggested for participants to use on the squares included Prince Solms, Landing at Indianola, The Comal Springs, the Bandstand on Main Plaza, Founders’ Oak, Wurstfest and more. The response was overwhelming, with over seventy packets being given out. The blocks were returned by March 15, 1994. The entries were judged by Fran Hensley of San Antonio, Betty Benton of Seguin and Beth Kennedy of Austin. First Place went to Brenda DeStefano for Lindheimer House, Second Place went to Rosemarie Ritchey for her Bandstand and Third went to Connie Cone and Alvena Armstrong for Prince Solms. Honorable mentions were given to Loyce Boarnet and Marie Mann. In the meantime, while the sewing was done, Betty Worl and Jane Hensley headed the committee members selling sponsorships and raffle tickets to support the anniversary celebration. The raffles netted about $800.
After the contest, the assembled squares were to be arranged into the three quilt tops. The committee soon learned that they had enough squares to make a fourth quilt, allowing for a second quilt to be raffled off. Mary Ann and Hank Thompson designed the quilt layouts, using a large center block format. The center logos were done by Jeanette Felger, Brenda DeStefano, Florence Brownfield and Mary Ann Thompson. All four quilts were backed and bound by Susan Derkacz and Brenda DeStefano. The quilts were truly a community project. The quilt frames were set up in the lobby of the Chamber of Commerce where the actual quilting was done. Women, men, children, the New Braunfels Area Quilters’ Guild, the Eagles’ Auxiliary, church quilters, and the Senior Citizens of New Braunfels all put their stitches in these quilts.
The first quilt was raffled off in April of 1995, at the Sesquicentennial Festivities. Carol Torrence won. The second quilt was raffled off at the Chamber dinner in January 1996 to end the sesquicentennial year. Ann Kuehler won the second quilt. The last two quilts went to the Sophienburg Museum and Archives… and are currently on display.
Sounds like a busy couple of years for those quilters, but wait, there’s more to the story.
In 1995, the city of Braunfels, Germany, also gave New Braunfels a quilt for our 150th Anniversary. It is a beautiful piece representing Braunfels Castle and the city of Braunfels. That treasured quilt is still on display in Honors Hall at the Chamber of Commerce offices. After completing the four quilts for New Braunfels Sesquicentennial year, Brenda DeStefano and Susan Derkacz decided it would be great to return the sentiment by giving the city of Braunfels a quilt marking their 750th Anniversary in 1996. DeStefano and Derkacz designed the quilt and presented the list of blocks to the Sesquicentennial Commission for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. They came up with several landmarks that had to be in the design, and then added Texas items, like the yellow rose and prickly pear. They already had patterns for five of the blocks and then created the rest.
The women began the quilt in September 1995 (after the other four were done) and finished it in May, putting in more than 500 hours of work. They were pretty much working 40 hours a week at the end just to make sure they got it done on time. The finished quilt includes landmarks such as the Comal County Courthouse, the Pioneer Family Monument, First Protestant Church, Sts. Peter and Paul Church and others. It also has several crests representing the heritage of the people living in New Braunfels. The blue around the center seal represents our local rivers. The fabrics again came from Mission Valley Mills. The inscription on the back of the quilt reads: Presented to Braunfels, Germany on their 750th birthday by the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce Sesquicentennial Commission. The quilt was on display in New Braunfels for the month of June before Herb Skoog delivered the quilt to Braunfels in July 1996.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum and Archives; Brenda DeStefano; Susan Derkacz; New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce.