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Erwin woman’s quilts get special showcase at museum

Erwin Record Photo by Richard Roark • Betty Peterson visited the Unicoi County Heritage Museum recently to view a showcase put together by curator Martha Erwin to feature Peterson’s handcrafted quilts.

By Richard Roark

The Unicoi County Heritage Museum is hosting a distinctive exhibit featuring works by a local quilter for the duration of the 2021 season.

The Quilt Room at the Unicoi County Heritage Museum in Erwin is currently showcasing handmade quilts by Betty Peterson. 

“Betty grew up in Poplar, North Carolina, before moving to Erwin,” said Unicoi County Heritage Museum Curator Martha Erwin. “Quilting was a family tradition passed down from her mother to her. Her mother introduced her to quilting at eight years old.”

Peterson started quilting out of necessity. 

“We didn’t have electricity when I was a child so we quilted at night by candlelight,” Peterson said. “We had to quilt so we would stay warm at night. Now people keep quilts folded or hang them on walls, but we actually used them to stay warm and you made them to last.”

The quilts that are currently on display at Unicoi County Heritage Museum offers a diversity of traditional quilt patterns.

“We have the Double Wedding Ring, Granny’s Pan, Dresden Plate, Trip Around the World, Maple Leaf and Butterfly patterns on display,” Erwin said. “I seldom see handmade quilts anymore. Today’s quilts are no longer made by needle, thread and thimble. They are now made by pneumatic sewing machines.”

Peterson is at work on crafting some more handmade quilts. 

“Quilting is my passion,” she said. “I’m currently working on a few Southern Appalachian style quilts, including a Postage Stamp quilt. The Postage Stamp takes longer to make because you are using tiny scraps of fabric. We don’t waste anything.”

The one-of-a-kind quilts that Peterson creates take time and care to create. 

“I usually work on several pieces at a time,” Peterson said. “When you are quilting you have to step away for a while.”

Peterson dropped by the Unicoi County Heritage Museum on Wednesday, July 7 to see her pieces on display. 

“I’m so happy and honored to have these on display,” Peterson said. “This is such a wonderful museum and offers so much history.”

Erwin explains that the Quilt Room at the Unicoi County Heritage Museum is a great addition to the current exhibits at the museum. 

“Visitors will have the opportunity to look into the long-ago lifestyle of quilt making,” Erwin said. “These bright and vibrant pieces of art were made of scraps from making dresses and aprons.”

Peterson and Erwin weren’t the only ones proud to see the quilts on display and the museum opened back up for their 39th Anniversary in 2021. “I’m proud that the museum opened up and I hope we never have anything similar to Covid-19 in the future,” Unicoi County Heritage Museum Board of Directors Chairman R.O. Smith said.

The Unicoi County Heritage Museum is organized into several other exhibit spaces, including Blue Ridge Pottery, Country Store, Main Street, the Daughters of the American Revolution Room, History and War Room, Attic, Kitchen, Wildlife Room, Community Room and the Parlor.

There is also an exhibit that features the former superintendent’s office. Before becoming the Unicoi County Heritage Museum, the two-story Victorian residence with a wrap-around porch was built in 1903 as a part of the Fish Hatchery and housed the hatchery’s superintendent and his family. 

Also on the museum grounds are the ever-popular Clinchfield Railroad Museum and the Greasy Cove Schoolhouse.  

Erwin announced that residents will have an opportunity to become part of the museum’s history by purchasing a brick to honor loved ones. 

“We have bricks that people can purchase to honor loved ones that worked on the railroad,” Erwin said. “The bricks that honor railroaders will be placed outside the Clinchfield Railroad Museum. Non-railroaders will have their bricks on display outside of the Unicoi County Heritage Museum.”

Erwin noted that Peterson’s quilts will be on display throughout the rest of the 2021 season.

The Unicoi County Heritage Museum and the Clinchfield Railroad Museum are located at 529 Federal Hatchery Road. For more information about the museums, please call (423) 743-9449 or (423) 743-8923.