Dale Brown Book Award winner discusses Amish quilts
Local quilters gathered in the James B. Hoover Center for Business at Elizabethtown College, eagerly awaiting a talk from Janneken Smucker, a fellow, passionate, quilter.
Earlier this month, Smucker received the Dale Brown Book Award for her volume, “Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon.” The award honors the memory of Dale W. Brown and his contributions to Brethren and Pietist studies. It is given to an author to “honor a book that advances Anabaptists and/or Pietist studies,” noted Jeff Bach, director of the College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.
Following the receipt of her award, Smucker spoke about her experiences traveling the country, collecting quilt stories for her book and gaining a deeper understanding of the history and, essentially, the business of quilting.
Smucker’s audience consisted of community members and long-time quilters who were excited to hear what rich history the Lancaster County area has to offer. The presentation was engaging, inciting laughter at times, especially from experienced quilters in the audience.
There were many small groups of old friends in attendance, whose relationships developed as a result of quilting. Lee Brown of Elizabethtown attended the event with friends. “We’ve been quilting together for a long time,” said Brown.
Junior sociology-anthropology and communications major Stephanie Hanus attended the event in hopes of learning more about Amish quilt making. Hanus found the event to be an important resource in her research. “The most helpful part was the personal quilt stories, because they gave me a good basis for the emotional and sentimental aspects of the quilts,” she said.
Smucker reflected on her personal interest in quilting as well as invited others to speak about quilting in their families and the entrepreneurial endeavors that Amish quilts had generated. She spoke about her great-grandmother who became a professional quilt marker — her job was to mark the patterns of a quilt onto the fabric so that it’s easier for novice quilt makers to follow when sewing — and created a business for herself.
She shared stories of quilt dealers who made a living buying and selling quilts in the 1970s and how the Amish catered to these dealers to sell their quilts at the best prices. The business of quilting quickly exploded, and their pieces were being transported from Lancaster County to Madison Avenue art dealers in New York City.
Smucker encouraged those in the audience to participate in an oral history project with the Quilt Alliance, an organization with which she volunteers. Participants are asked to create a three-minute video of themselves speaking about the story their quilt holds. She also urged quilt owners to document their stories on paper or muslin cloth for future quilt enthusiasts to enjoy.
Smucker is an associate professor of history at West Chester University with a focus in American material culture. She earned her master’s degree in quilt studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and, from this experience, has developed a passion for the rich history that quilts possess.
Dru Schneider Bio
Dru Schneider is a business administration major with a concentration in marketing and a minor in graphic design. She is the captain of the Elizabethtown College swim team, helps coordinate the Elizabethtown College Relay For Life event and works as a student assistant in Career Services.