Danielle Pilon welcomed guests at the quilt show entrance during the 160th Russell Fair. Van Dusen photo
Tom Van Dusen
RUSSELL – Visitors and participants alike are calling the 2018 Russell Fair 160th Anniversary Quilt Show one of the largest ever organized in eastern Ontario.
The colourful display featured 168 quilts of various shapes, sizes and ages, most of which had a local connection and a story to tell. With some difficulty, the collection was whittled down from over 200 brought in after organizers put out the call; one section was set aside for Victoria’s Quilts Canada which provides handmade quilts to cancer patients.
The impressive show was set up in the east end of the Russell Arena. Complementing the exhibition, just outside the entrance gate tickets for the annual Russell Fair quilt raffle could be purchased.
“For a while, it didn’t look like we’d get enough entries to make it a full show,” said Danielle Pilon, one of the event organizers. “There’s an emotional attachment. People find it hard to lend out their quilts, even for a little while.”
Eventually, the floodgates opened and more entries came in than could be accommodated within the limited space. Intriguing to most visitors was the fact that each entry sported a tag telling the story of the creation.
Pilon’s favourite story and that of many other observers was one that went with a quilt of unspecified pattern that won first prize at the 1902 Ohio State Fair. Owner Lynn Mathews said her great aunt Isabelle was the artist and that the win changed her life.
Isabelle had a son out of wedlock that, in those times, was a social disgrace resulting in her being sent to live with a brother in another town. The fair prize was $1,000, a fortune at the time, which permitted Isabelle to set up her own dressmaking and quilting business.
“As a ‘scarlet woman’, she never married but, financially, she did very well. She travelled quite a bit and came to Montreal often to visit her sister, Hazel McCollum, my grandmother,” Mathews recounted. “Her son Frank married and when his grandfather, who had disowned him as a baby, became frail in his old age, Frank and his wife cared for him until his death.”
Because of the time needed to organize it and the responsibility that comes with it, Pilon said it was unlikely the quilt show would become an annual event: “It’s a bit nerve-wracking because you take charge of these family heirlooms and are always worried that damage could occur.”