1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Texas Bluebonnet Quilt,, 1936, by Myrtle L. Rhodes
Photo courtesy of The Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas
In 1936, Texas marked the 100th anniversary of its independence from Mexico. Despite the ongoing ravages of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, the state decided to throw a grand celebration for itself.
The Texas Centennial Exposition took place in Dallas from June 6, 1936 to November 29, 1936, attracted 6,353,827 visitors, cost approximately $25 million, and was said to have helped the city weather the Depression by creating over 10,000 jobs and giving a $50 million boost to the local economy.
More than 50 buildings were constructed for the Exposition—many of them Art Deco classics—including the Food & Fiber Building, which featured large murals painted by the noted Italian artist Hector Serbaroli.
According to The Dallas Morning News, “Premature babies slept in incubators. Women pranced around in their birthday suits. Dioramas featured Texas history. Dinosaurs moved and robots talked. There were radio and telephone demonstrations. You could catch a Shakespearean play performed in a replica of the Globe Theatre. Or you could attend a sneezing competition or egg-laying contest. And, when you needed a break, you could eat a new snack called Fritos and enjoy some air conditioning, which was still relatively new.”
President and Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the Exposition, as did many celebrities and movie stars. Gene Autry filmed a movie on location there. Manufacturers showed off their wares and released special versions of their products. (For example, Singer released a Featherweight sewing machine featuring the Texas Centennial Badge that was only marketed at the Exposition.) By all accounts, it was quite a party.
Among the many attractions at the exposition was a quilt contest. Although details about the competition are hard to come by, apparently it was advertised for over a year in advance.
One artistic quilter who created an original design for the Exposition was Myrtle L. Rhodes, who lived in Forney, Texas, a small town about 20 miles from Dallas. Family accounts relate that Myrtle worked for a year on her quilt and used more than a mile of thread to make it.
Those twelve-months of work and many spools of thread, coupled with Myrtle’s artistic ability and expert needle skills, paid off when her Texas Bluebonnet Quilt took first place honors at the Centennial Exposition contest.
Eleanor Roosevelt was said to have been especially delighted with the quilt, and asked Myrtle if she would be willing to donate it to the National Archives. Myrtle politely refused.
The quilt stayed in the possession of Myrtle’s family until 1991, when her son, L.G. Rhodes, donated it to The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas. It remains in the museum’s collection.
The surviving members of Myrtle’s family who remember her state that Myrtle was always artistic and her home was beautifully decorated. She had a strong sense of pride in being a Texan, although she frequently drove a team of mules across the Red River to visit relatives in Oklahoma.
She made three or four quilts a year, many of them her original designs, and when she was making one for someone in particular, she would interview that person before making the quilt so as to include something of his or her personality in the design.
Sadly, none of the family now knows what has become of any of these quilts.
Fortunately for the rest of us, the Texas Bluebonnet Quilt remains to show us what a talented artist Myrtle Rhodes was, and to remind us that quilts were part of the biggest party Texas has ever held.
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