19 July 2010

A quilt with swastikas creates controversy

A museum in Greeley, Colorado, has generated a firestorm of controversy by accepting a quilt whose principle design element is a series of swastikas:
For almost 80 years the pretty quilt, hand-stitched from scraps of old farm clothes and backed with fabric from flour sacks bought at a local mill, had been forgotten at the bottom of a family trunk.

Then one day two summers ago, an elderly couple walked into a local museum, shyly offering up the surprisingly well-preserved quilt for sale. The 90-year-old man, who had lived his whole life on the flat plains an hour north of Denver, was divvying up family heirlooms when he found the mysterious quilt.

The man didn't remember seeing the quilt before and wasn't sure who made it. His mother and sister had been avid quilters, as had so many women of his childhood. Maybe they made it together and it was tucked away when his mother died in 1934. His sister was also dead, so there was no one left to ask...

"Our mission is to preserve and interpret the history of Greeley. This is a cultural artifact," said Erin Quinn, museum director. Greeley was founded in 1870 as a utopian community, with strict covenants requiring temperance and modest living. Quinn can imagine women only a generation or two removed from the city's founders gathering to socialize and make something functional.

The bent-arm cross was once a popular pattern in frontier quilting circles and given many names, including Catch Me If You Can and Whirligig. Quinn's best guess, based on the history of the flour mill in town, is that the quilt was made in the late 1910s or the 1920s — long before most in the region knew what was brewing an ocean away in Europe...

The word "swastika" is believed to come from Sanskrit, and roughly translates as "to do good." The design has been used as a fertility symbol as well as an emblem of good luck and good fortune. It has turned up on Neolithic rock carvings, in Hindu temples and amid Greek ruins, and was once widely incorporated in Native American jewelry and handicrafts — so much so that Arizona in the 1920s used it on highway signs...

Local reaction was swift, extreme and more than a little unsettling. One person called for the museum to burn the quilt; others chided curators for even considering displaying it.
You can read more about the quilt and the controversy at the Los Angeles Times link.

Photo: Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post, via the Denver Post.


  1. Symbols have no power but that which we give them. Just like words have no power but that which we give them.
    Yes, there are connotations but if we keep bringing those connotations up every time it reinforces them.
    It was a symbol used for thousands and thousands years. Why keep associating it with a few years.

    By the way, according to the website, I write like, you write like Cory Doctorow.

  2. I agree with you (which is one reason I posted the article).

    Re I Write Like, the results will of course depend on which TWYK text you paste in at the site (and it would need to be my words, not linked material from elsewhere).

    I tried analyzing one of my butterfly posts and was told I wrote like Margaret Atwood, which is o.k., but when I tried another butterfly post, the result was... (drumroll)... Vladimir Nabokov! Considering his credentials as a professional lepidoptera expert, I thought that was an excellent outcome!

  3. I posted all your latest posts that used your words. It was very cut and paste.
    I am a thirty year old female and I have had
    H.P Lovecraft, James Joyce (more than once) and Kurt Vonnegut. They're certainly not names I would have come up with. I've never read any of their stuff and only have a vague idea what they did.

  4. There are very old (pre-1938) Jewish Temples with swastikas carved into their design. Neither words NOR symbols have any other meaning than what we give them. I once wrote a Science Fiction story in which my hero was given a badge which featured a swastika, which she subsequently proudly wore, but which had a VERY different connotation from what the Nazis meant. (FYI, the individual who gave the badge was a black woman who was the Duchess of Lorelei, and the badge featured a white letter "L" for the name of the Duchy on a green background, signifying the green covered, snow topped mountains of the Duchy.)

  5. This symbol has been used by many cultures and religions for thousands of years. Native American, Egyptian, Hindu to name just a few.

    Ignorant people always want to "burn" what they don't understand. Kind of like the Nazi book burnings, though I'm sure those who want the quilt burned wouldn't see themselves in that light.

    I am a quilter and no matter the theme, even if this quilt was in some way condoning the evil of the Nazis (it isn't and was made much earlier) destroying history doesn't negate that history. Preservation of ALL history is important. Man will never learn if there are no lessons preserved.

  6. People’s ignorance astounds me. It’s as if the people of this town feel that the museum is in some way supporting Hitler and the Nazi movement. They should take this as an opportunity to learn the ancient and fascinating history behind this symbol. Although the symbol’s image has been tarnished by hate, its story deserves to be told. It almost reminds me of book burning and witch hunts, among other things that exemplify American ignorance. If I don’t understand it that means it’s evil and wrong.


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