Column #78

Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks

Renee Hoeprich (l) and Monique  Metrailer (r) examine one of the quilt tops believed to have been made by Ollie Steele Burden that was donated to the LSU Rural Life Museum. Photo by Alex Labry
Renee Hoeprich (l) and Monique Metrailer (r) examine one of the quilt tops believed to have been made by Ollie Steele Burden that was donated to the LSU Rural Life Museum. Photo by Alex Labry

Renee Hoeprich (l) and Monique  Metrailer (r) quilt on one of the quilt tops they've pieced together from "orphan blocks" donated to the LSU Rural Life Museum. The blocks are believed to have been made by Ollie Steele Burden. Photo by Alex Labry
Renee Hoeprich (l) and Monique Metrailer (r) quilt on one of the quilt tops they've pieced together from "orphan blocks" donated to the LSU Rural Life Museum. The blocks are believed to have been made by Ollie Steele Burden. Photo by Alex Labry

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the name of Burden is closely associated with the city’s rich history. Over 150 years ago, the Burdens settled on 600 acres they called Windrush Plantation, so named for a river in England near where the patriarch of the family was raised. Then located outside of the city, the plantation is now considered to be in the central part of Baton Rouge.

Through the years, a variety of influential Burdens left their mark on the property, developing it into a beautifully tranquil, park-like setting. The family eventually donated 400 acres to Louisiana State University (LSU), and it is now the site of the LSU Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens.

Part of the acreage is set aside for agricultural research (including plant pathology, horticulture, agronomy, engineering, and forestry); part remains as a natural wilderness area; and part is taken up by the Rural Life Museum complex, which features restored antique buildings typical of early settlement in the area, along with an interpretive center that houses an impressive collection of artifacts.

Monique Metrailer, who works as a docent at the Rural Life Museum interpretive center, had the idea of starting a quilting bee at the Museum as a way of demonstrating everyday life in rural Louisiana to visitors.

The Museum had several quilt frames in its collection and Metrailer approached the Museum Director, David Floyd, with the idea of using them for the quilting bee. Not only did he approve, but Floyd also surprised Metrailer by providing her with a stack of hand-pieced quilt tops and quilt blocks (having fabrics dating from the 1920s to the 1940s) that had recently been donated to the Museum.

The tops and blocks, along with a stash of fabrics, had been given to the museum by a gentleman who stated that they had been purchased years ago by his mother from museum founder Steele Burden at a “clean out sale.”

The gentleman stated that his mother had always said that she would never sell the items and made her son promise that he would give them back to the Museum when she died. The assumption was made that the tops and blocks belonged to Ollie Steele Burden (Steele’s mother), due to their dates and the fact that she was known to have sewn.

“In addition to the finished tops, there are enough blocks for at least eight quilts,” Metrailer says. A skilled needlewoman but new to quilting, Metrailer enlisted help from Baton Rouge’s River City Quilt Guild. Among those who agreed to assist in the project was Renee Hoeprich, an experienced quilter who had recently moved to Baton Rouge from San Diego.

The women used books, mainly Sensational Settings, by Joan Hanson and Setting Solutions by Sharon Craig, to combine the “orphan blocks” into tops for quilting. Hoeprich provided fabrics from her own collection to sash the blocks.

It has not yet been decided what will become of the quilts when they’re all finished, but one thing is certain: The quilting bee has been a great success, with quilters of all skill levels, from beginners to masters, happily taking part. The fact that the quilts being created are fashioned from finished tops and freshly-set blocks, likely made by Ollie Steele Burden herself, adds a special touch to the project. They have, essentially, come home.

“I think she would have liked the fact that we are taking the hand-pieced blocks and salvaging them,” Metrailer sums up. “I hope so, anyway!”

The LSU Rural Life Museum is located at the intersection of Essen Lane and Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge. It is open from 8:30 to 5:00 daily. The quilting bee takes place on Mondays and Tuesdays, and everyone is invited to sit down and quilt a spell.

 

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Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
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