PEMBROKE — Onlookers marveled at a century-old hand sewn quilt highlighted by scraps of cloth sewn into 30 pine cone patch designs.
The intricate patterns appear to make the five-foot quilt vibrate. Some describe it as three-dimensional. And the color palette — absolutely exquisite, another observer said.
More importantly is the 130 years of incredible history the quilt embodies and the remarkable legacy left by its creator — Maggie Lowrie Locklear, daughter of Rhoda and Henry Berry Lowrie, who is considered by the Lumbee people as a pioneer of their civil rights.
The quilt was officially gifted to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke during a recent ceremony. The pine cone patchwork quilt will be on permanent display at the Museum of the Southeast American Indian.
“There is no place where this quilt belongs other than right here,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.
“When you think about the history of this university and this building (Old Main) and what it means to our people and to the people of this region, and to the people who established this university — and now to have this piece of history here, there is no other place it should be.”
Cummings said it gives him chills to think of the generation of students, young people and adults who walk through the museum and hear the story behind the quilt.
The quilt was donated by Emma Locklear. Maggie was married to Emma Locklear’s father, Hezekiah Locklear. Family members estimate the quilt was completed in 1910.
“I was born in 1940. From my earliest memories this quilt has been a part of our family,” said Emma Locklear, a 1962 graduate of Pembroke State College and retired educator from Prospect.
“She used scraps from my dad’s work pants and from her dresses and aprons.”
Emma asked those in attendance to imagine the obstacles — no electricity, in particular — Maggie overcame during the early 1900s to produce such a detailed piece of fabric.
It is estimated that the quilt was stitched with 30,000 pieces of cloth. The delicate folds were likely made from an iron heated by a wood stove.
“I can’t imagine the patience and the work she put into this,” she said. “I thought it was worth preserving. That’s why I placed the quilt here for others to see and for Maggie’s legacy to live on.”
Museum director Nancy Strickland Fields said the lead curator at the National Quilt Museum was impressed after seeing pictures of the quilt.
“The consistency and the execution of this quilt is probably the best of the best,” Fields said.
She added that the quilt gives her museum staff another opportunity to tell the story of the Lumbee people.
“Here is something tangible that visitors can see. It is part of our collective story. It is very powerful. We look forward to many years of interpreting this quilt.
“It is stitched together with all of our identities and all of our experience here in this region.”
Among those in attendance were Harvey Godwin, chairman of the Lumbee Tribe and Angela Sumner, director of the Lumberton Visitor’s Bureau.
Lawrence Locklear pointed to a framed photo of Henry Berry Lowrie hanging on the wall behind the encased quilt.
“It was because of the actions of Henry Berry Lowrie and his gang, that the university was established and now that we have his daughter’s quilt here — it brings everything full circle,” said Locklear, director of the Southeast American Indian Studies program.
“The power of having all of this right here in this one part of the museum — it is going to help tell that story. It adds to that legacy of the Lowrie family and Ms. Maggie and others who helped us be who we are today.”