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Quilt block tells Columbia family's Civil War story

Monday, May 9, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:47 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 9, 2011
Mary Ellen Bass works on a quilt at Community United Methodist Church. The women in the quilting group pay close attention to each stitch when they quilt, usually every Tuesday at the church.

COLUMBIA — During the Civil War, Marilyn Russell's great-great-grandfather, Joseph Alexander Cook, noticed a cannonball lodged in a tree where he lived in southern Arkansas.

After the war, he went back to the tree with his sons and cut it down. He took the cannonball and hauled it home in a wagon. Russell said the cannonball has been passed down in the family since.

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Currently, her father, Norris Walthall, owns the cannonball. He is 96.

“I think it means a lot to him,” Russell said. “Family means a great deal to him.”

With this family story in mind, Russell, 72, and her friends in a Columbia quilting group are making a special quilt for her husband, Robert Russell. One of the blocks tells her family's story about the cannonball.

She said the spot where it was stuck in the tree, between Lafayette and Columbia counties in Arkansas, is not known as a spot where a skirmish or battle occurred. The start of the Civil War was commemorated last month.

“We don’t know if it was some sort of practice or what,” she said. “We’ve never been able to find that out.”

Russell was inspired to make the quilt with friends after she read “The Civil War Diary Quilt” by Rosemary Youngs. The author read diaries of women who lived during the Civil War, took a word or a phrase from some entries and made quilt blocks from them. She combined the quilt blocks and the stories that inspired them into a book.

Russell and her friends then decided they would make a Civil War diary quilt of their own and give it to her husband.

Although Russell said it would be another four to six months until the quilt is completed, it is already quite detailed. It embraces autumnal colors — browns, oranges, reds and dark blues. Several of the blocks have tiny flower-patterned fabrics quilted into them. One block has a stamp of Abraham Lincoln on it.

The cannonball block inspired by Russell’s story has two green triangles and two brown triangles in its corners, which Russell said represent the tree where the cannonball was lodged. She appliquéd a small black circle in the center as the cannonball.

Russell said she loved the challenge of working on this block.

“It was done with Civil War reproduction fabrics, and I just love those,” she said. “They tend to be nice fabrics in interesting colors. I really loved doing it.”

Quilter Martha Klemme, 74, enjoys working on Russell’s Civil War diary quilt. She said she likes the variety of the quilt and the history behind it.

“The history of the Confederacy interests me because of how far we’ve come,” Klemme said. She looked at the quilt and added, “None of the blocks are alike; they’re all different. It’s not one person making everything.”

“It takes longer to work on them, but it’s just unique,” quilter Helen Malizia said. Malizia, 80, said that she likes the social aspect of quilting and that she and the women talk about “a little bit of everything” together.

The women meet every Tuesday in an open room in Community United Methodist Church to work on a few quilts together. Most of the 16 women are retired. Some gather to work on quilts for themselves, and others work on quilts they plan to raffle for charity.

On a recent Tuesday while Russell and the other women talked and quilted together, she looked up and said, “This is one of the fun things about quilting, that we really do get involved in one another’s lives and stories.”

Her friend, Nickey Dalzell, who has been quilting with the group for 20 years, said, “We don’t schedule anything else on Tuesdays because we have this.” 


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