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Oconee County quilter brings lifelong lessons to her art

CENTRAL, S.C.— Anna Willis' knuckles are swollen, and her fingers remain curved no matter how much she tries to straighten them. "I have had arthritis a long time," she said. "As long as I can remember."
Yet, she still works with those fingers. The artwork they produce still makes it into galleries and museums. Anna Willis is a quilter, and has been since she was a child. Her mother first taught her to sew when she was 5. Willis was a young lady, in the 1940s, when she completed her first quilt by herself. She still has it, all these years later. "It's a sunshine and shadow pattern," Willis said. "I have never been able to part with it." Two folding tables pushed together dominate her living room in her small brick home in Central. On it is a sewing machine. All around it, and underneath it, are sacks of material. Small drawers hold spools of thread of every color. One couch is stacked with folded quilts. Some of the quilts are large enough to cover a queen-size bed. Others are made for babies or for hanging on the wall. Some are decorated with beadwork and hand-sewn patchwork. All have been made by Willis. Quilting is her art. Her work is on display at The Arts Center of Clemson and is part of the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail, a series of wooden, painted quilt squares that are mounted on public buildings, tourist sites and homes in the Upstate. The squares are a form of public art, meant to generate tourism. "This is what I do now, when I take a notion," Willis said. "As soon as I retired, I went right into quilting. I don't have anybody here. I had to find something to do." She has been a widow since the 1960s. Her only child, an adopted son, died last year. Her quilts keep her busy. She recently worked on a king-size Christmas quilt, one she meant to finish in time for the holidays, but the schedule was delayed when she came down with a cold. Some of her creations will take a couple of months to make. This king-size cover will take three months. She has taught others her art at local elementary schools, community centers and at Tri-County Technical College. Willis was raised in Seneca, near the Oconee County Training School. Then, flour sacks, salt sacks and feed sacks were used to put quilts together. Her mother had a large quilt frame that was held up with ropes at the ceiling. She would lower it in the morning and work on quilts until dinner time, Willis said. "We didn't have much," Willis said. "Mama made quilts, and I had to help her. Mama could make anything she wanted. Everything I knew about sewing, knitting and crocheting, I learned from her." That started a lifetime of working with fabric and sewing for Willis. She worked for 15 years at Gallant Belk on Seneca. But the longest span of her career was spent in a mill, sewing collars on blouses. About 23 years ago, she retired. "The doctor made me stop working because of my heart," she said. Her health is not what it once was. Those fingers will ache sometimes, and her arthritis will keep her awake all evening if her joints become too cold. But many days, Willis is still here, sitting at this table, working on her art.

Historic Belton Train Depot site of new Upstate Heritage Quilt

Thanks to the skill of upstate quilters, volunteers, and a local manufacturing company, a painted copy of a century-plus-old heirloom quilt now graces the side of the historic Belton Train Depot. The quilt block was erected in May by employees of Darby Metalworks, Inc., of Anderson and Belton Area Museum Association board member Walter Smith. The “Carolina Lily” quilt joins 113 other examples located in Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties as part of the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail. The blocks can usually be found on historic buildings, fusing an interest in quilts with heritage tourism. “The board of the Belton Area Museum Association chose the ‘Carolina Lily’ quilt because it is among the oldest in the local area and is owned by board member LuAnne Childress Foster,” said BAMA President Tim Drake. The pattern, which has numerous pseudonyms, dates back to the 19th century. “It took almost a year to complete the work on the block because it is such an intricate pattern,” said Foster, who coordinated the quilt block project. [caption id="attachment_7031" align="alignright" width="600"]Historic Belton Train Depot Left to right: Shirah Smith, Tim Drake, LuAnne Foster, Shirley Smith (descendant of quilt maker Elizabeth Worsham) and her husband, Mike Smith.[/caption] Members of the Prickly Fingers Quilters Guild of Anderson again transformed their skills as quilters into one-dimensional artwork, having produced several blocks for display since their first effort in 2011. Quilters who completed this block include Diane Schonauer, Stamie Cline, Marcia Whaley, Debby Stone, Joan Korth, Lou Russell, Robin Kaja, Wendy Wolff and Teri Walker. The original quilt was started in 1851 and finished in 1854. It was made by Elizabeth B. Worsham to prove her worthiness to become the second wife of John H. Worsham of Jackson County, Georgia. His children’s initials and hand prints are located in each corner and throughout the squares on the quilt. The quilt was passed down from mother to daughter for three generations until it was sold at auction. “The quilt block can be viewed at any time since it is located on the outside of the building," said BAMA Executive Director Shirah Smith. "We’re so pleased to preserve this important art form for the public to see.” The painted quilt block is on display at the North entrance (Breazeale Street) of the historic Belton Train Depot, located at 100 N. Main Street in Belton, S.C.  The quilt block is sponsored by the Belton Area Museum Association. (Related: Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail Celebrates 100th Quilt - Nov. 2012) About the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail The Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail (UHQT) was begun in 2009 when Oconee County became the first to embrace the quilt trail concept. Since then, Oconee has been joined by Pickens and Anderson counties along with four other quilt trails in South Carolina: York County Quilt Trail, Foothills Quilt Trail-Landrum, McCormick County Quilt Trail and Ridge Heritage Quilt Trail. Information and interactive maps of all the S.C. trails can be found at www.uhqt.org. About the Belton Area Museum Association The Belton Area Museum Association oversees the Ruth Drake Museum, the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame, the Center Section, the North End Gallery, and Whistle Stop Gifts, all located in the historic Belton Train Depot. For more information, call (864) 338-7400, or visit www.beltonsc.com or Facebook. Via: Belton Area Museum Association

Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail Celebrates 100th Quilt

[gallery link="file"] Crazy Quilt, Double Wedding Ring, Rocky Mountain Road, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Carolina Mystery, Churn Dasher, President’s Wreath -- the pattern names of quilts are just as creative as their makers. Visitors who travel the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail in South Carolina will find these quilt patterns and many more painted on wooden blocks and displayed on homes, arts centers, businesses, schools and historic or public buildings. Each painted quilt panel is a copy of an existing quilt that usually has some historical connection with the sponsoring family or organization. In September, the 100th quilt block was mounted on the City of Westminster's Municipal Building. Essie Jane Spencer Smith of the Madison (Old Liberty Baptist Church) Community of Oconee County made the original quilt sometime before August 1945 as a wedding present to her son, Spencer and his wife, Lelline Smith. Donna J. Smith Campbell, Essie Smith’s granddaughter, sponsored this addition to the trail. The quilt trail concept was born in Adams County, Ohio in 2001, when Donna Sue Groves, a field representative with the Ohio Arts Council, decorated her family’s barn with a quilt square pattern from one of her mother's quilts. Today, more than 4,000 quilt blocks can be found in 43 states. In 2009, Oconee County became the first in South Carolina to embrace the quilt trail concept. The first quilt square was mounted on the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla. Today, the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail includes Anderson and Pickens counties and is a collaborative effort by organizations, businesses and individuals who want to preserve the area's heritage and promote the Upstate. Before setting out on the actual trail, visit the Upstate Quilt Trail website to view quilt blocks, learn about their history and find their locations. Check out this article in Sandlapper Magazine for more insight into how group leader Martha Fife and a band of volunteers produce and manage the installation of quilt blocks. Via: Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail, Sandlapper Magazine