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Elgin woman donates quilts to state museum
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/29/2008 12:10 AM

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When Ina Dews was a teen, two of her aunts shared their knowledge of how to piece together a quilt.

Now Dews, a longtime Elgin resident and activist, hopes to share her family's legacy with other Illinois residents.

This week, Dews will travel to Springfield to present three quilts to the Illinois State Museum.

Irene Boyer, the museum's decorative arts registrar, said the facility is home to nearly 400 quilts.

In a typical year, between five and 20 quilts are given to the museum, Boyer said.

Dews' donation is notable both in quantity and quality.

"It's a very significant donation by Ina, particularly because we don't have a quilt made by an African-American," Boyer said. "This will be the first, so we're very excited."

Two of Dews' quilts were made by her aunts, Katherine Haynes and Amatha Wynn, both Texas natives. The other one was put together by Dews when she was 15 or 16.

All are about the size of a queen-size bed.

Her favorite donation is a crazy quilt, a collection of different fabrics and random patterns.

"It just has a uniqueness to it," Dews said, noting she has about 35 quilts, 20 of which are very old, and not much room to store or display all of them.

The other two quilts are a friendship quilt, embroidered with the names of friends, and a puff quilt, made of silk and rayon.

Dews said being the first to donate African-American-made quilts to the museum was one factor in her decision. Another was knowing the quilts "will be taken care of and appreciated by viewers."

"Everybody doesn't treasure quilts like I do," she said. "The quilts I'm donating are very old."

Boyer said the museum catalogued its first quilt in 1951 -- an all-white cradle quilt.

Each quilt is painstakingly preserved, stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room on shelves that are treated with special chemicals to hold off stains and fading, Boyer said.

Curators set up different displays for the museum's five locations in Illinois, including ones in Chicago and Lockport.

Some examples include comparing newer quilt patterns to those from the 1800s, Amish quilts and those gifted to the museum.

Boyer said museums officials don't yet know how they will show Dews' quilts. But they will have a presence, especially as donations have increased over the last 20 years.

"Donors realize we actually do exhibit them," she said.