A New Jersey family’s history told through dozens of quilts

Dorothy Talavera of Delanco, N.J., can stand over any one of her dozens of quilts and tell you when it was made, who made it and the history behind its design.

Just like in a photograph, Talavera says, a moment of history gets captured in each colorful pattern.

“These quilts represent not only a bond with people whose lives were not all that different from mine, but just how they could take what little they had and turn them into something as beautiful as these quilts,” Talavera said.

On Sunday, Talavera will share a portion of her family’s history at the Camden County Historical Society as part of the new exhibit “An Unbroken Chain: Five Generations of Camden Quilts.”

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The quilts, all with a different story to tell, go as far back as the 1880s. The oldest quilts were made by Talavera’s great grandmother, who lived just blocks away from the current location of the Camden County Historical Society.

Instead of simply hanging the quilts or placing them on a table, Talavera says they will be placed throughout the historical society as if they were in her own home.

“We’re excited about having a chance to really play with the antiques that are here in the museum as well as being able to show both old and modern quilts in that setting,” she said.

One of the quilts made by her grandmother was folded away in a trunk for 100 years until the 1990s, when Talavera says she took the quilt top and quilted it.

“Quilt purists will be horrified by that, but I thought, you’ve got to use them, they’re not doing any good sitting in a trunk somewhere.”

The product of the work of great grandmother and granddaughter was sent to Talavera’s brother as a gift.

Most of Talvara’s quilts have ended up as gifts, but Talavara says she keeps a select few close by.

“The ones that I keep are the ones made by my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother.”

The family chain of quilters has continued on down to Talavera’s daughter, Emily Kreifels, who made a quilt for her son.

Talavera believes her quilts are art, and she’s excited to know that others will be able to enjoy the same history and the same stories that go along with each pattern.

“I hope they get excited about an art form, because these really are art, I hope they realize in the continuity what this represents, and maybe they will look at some of the things that they’ve got from their own families in a little bit different light.

Sunday’s exhibit begins at 2 p.m. at the Camden County Historical Society.

Since Talavera has quilts to relive important moments in her family’s history, we wondered what you have to remember your family? Is there a special photo you keep close by, maybe a baby blanket or piece of clothing you’ve saved? Tell us about your family history in the comments section below.

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