Quilts on display at the Pratt County Historical Museum tell stories about the county's history: the people who populated it and the buildings that were important in the commerce and culture of the city. They're made in the traditional way, often drawing supplies from the scrap bag and quilted by hand.
A special display in the Susan H. Hess Memorial Room features 1930's era friendship quilts from Byers, Iuka and Cullison, a 1977 quilt by the ladies of the First Baptist Church that recognizes all local churches and the dates of their organization, and a 1939 Pratt photo quilt made by Mrs. Frank Withers, wife of an early-day Pratt photographer.
Curator Marsha Brown is amazed by the photo quilt.
"It's done now, but computerized," she commented. "It totally amazes me that Mr. Withers developed the photos on fabric. In 1939!"
The black and white photos of "twenty pictures of the leading business and show places of our city" are transferred to a yellow background, according to an article in the April 6, 1939 Pratt Union.
Photos include a Pratt-Kingman football game with several hundred people in the background, the courthouse at its dedication, several churches and other buildings in the city. The quilt is on long-term loan to the museum by a Withers descendant.
Friendship quilts offer another version of the history of families and communities. They became popular in the 1840s and 1850s, as people were becoming more mobile. The National Park Service reports that pioneers spent many months, sometimes up to a year, preparing to move west. While they were salting meat, drying fruit, buying beans and coffee and barrels of flour and sugar, the women also found time to sew, to furnish the recommended two or three bed covers for every man, woman and child.
Often, friendship quilts were made in secret, to be presented to the travelers to remind them of home. The practice continues today, and appears to have been prevalent in Pratt County during the 1930s.
The quilts spotlighted in the Hess room are a sampling of more than three dozen displayed in the museum.