This past month, the volunteer-driven Greeneville downtown quilt trail added some new vibrant blocks on two venerable city locations: two on the City Garage Car Museum, and one on Broyles General Store. The count is now approaching 20 quilt blocks in the downtown core. Two bold red and black Wagon Wheel pattern murals now adorn the front of the Car Museum, painted by Amy Saxonmeyer and supported by the Bewleys who own the Museum. This past weekend, a Lone Star quilt block was installed on the 66-year old Broyles General Store, and the annual Neas family reunion was held to celebrate their ancestor’s story. That story is below…
“Quilt Square Unveiled At Broyles” By Lorelei Goff of the Greeneville Sun
The newest addition to the Downtown Greeneville Quilt Trail was unveiled Saturday at Broyles General Store.
The event featured an unveiling with artists Linnie Greene and Barb Evans, followed by a reception inside Broyles. The unveiling coincided with the annual family reunion of descendants [we hear 78 people were there!] of Tubal Cain and Odessa Neas. Odessa, or “Dessie,” Neas stitched the original quilt, which was on display inside Broyles store, in the 1940s. Neas used scraps from making clothing and cotton raised in her own garden for the batting.
Amy Saxonmeyer, who serves as the artistic director and public relations co-chair … said the quilt square project highlights a side of the area’s history seldom seen. “This is a wonderful town, a wonderful county, and we have a lot of rich, interesting history here,” Saxonmeyer said. “But a lot of it has to do with civil war and fighting and things — which is fine, it’s grand — but the thing about the quilts is they have to do with the softer side of our history, about family and hearth and home and love and nurturing. That’s one reason I think this is a very special project.”
Anna Roberts and Pat Barnett are sisters and granddaughters of Neas. Barnett and Roberts spoke at the event, sharing memories of Odessa Neas and displaying some recently harvested cotton and the cards she used to clean and roll cotton into batting.
“She told her daughters that when she was outside sewing, she was as close to heaven as she ever hoped to be,” said Roberts. “She had the eye of an artist. She could take the scraps of fabric and create a really charming randomness in the colors and patterns that she made that is nearly impossible to duplicate in a contemporary quilt where the fabrics are purchased solely for the purpose of making that quilt.”
Barnett said her grandmother tried to make four or five quilts every winter.
“When asked why so many, she said, ‘Well, somebody in the family is going to need one,’” Barnett told the crowd gathered for the event. “Mother said all of the children slept on the second floor of the house, and there was no heat up there. She said it took four or five quilts per bed to keep the children warm.”
The “Lone Star” pattern is pieced together from hundreds of diamond-shaped pieces of cloth cut on the bias, requiring much skill, they noted. It was often the pattern she chose to make as wedding gifts for her children.
The quilt used as a pattern for the quilt square was stitched in the 1940s and now belongs to Barnett. [Barnett and Roberts showed more quilts and told more stories at our annual Quilt Turning for the Quilt Trail, see blog post here…]
Christine Collette said when first approached to display a quilt square on the store, she didn’t think it was very significant. As she began to read about its history, she explained, she realized it was “much more than a quilt square.” Collette’s grandmother was the sister of Odessa’s husband, Tubal Cain Neas.
“The feed, especially the poultry feed bags, came in 100 pound bags,” Collette said. “The women would come in to get the bags of feed and they would want to get a dress out of those sacks. They would have to hunt through piles of hundred pound bags of feed to make a dress. It took three bags of feed to make one average-size dress.
“The scraps, of course, were saved and they would make quilts out of it. I thought about this and about the time and love that it took for these women to make these quilts and it started becoming more than just a quilt square on a building.”
The Greeneville Woman’s Club sponsored the 4×4-foot “Lone Star” quilt block. The club works to support art development, cultural awareness and historical preservation in the community.
Broyles General Store has operated for over 66 years, beginning as Broyles Feed Store in 1951 and evolving into Broyles General Store and Emporium with the variety of goods it offers today.
Support for the Downtown Quilt Trail Project is provided by the Appalachian RC&D Council and our larger northeast Tennessee quilt trail, with financial support from the East Tennessee Art Fund, the Mary G.K. Fox Foundation, and the Greene County Fund, and local businesses or clubs who sponsor individual squares. The project is a volunteer team working together since 2014. The 2017 team is Linnie Greene, Amy Saxonmeyer, Louis Blanks, George Blanks, Barbara Evans, Christine Huss, Andy Daniels, who are helped by many other community friends.
Commemorative colorful mugs are made by Linnie Greene for each quilt square, and you can find the collection on sale at the Greene County Museum, the Greeneville Antique Market, or at many of the quilt sites that are also businesses. Sale proceeds support the project.