Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mary Jane Tryon’s Intriguing Quilt

Mary Jane Tryon
Somewhere in the 1840's, Mary Jane Tryon made a quilt. As she sat piecing together the small, intricate blocks, she could never have imagined the impact her quilt would have 168 years later.

Mary Jane Tryon married late in life, she was 27. She married Warner Waid, had two little girls and was dead by 36. She rests peacefully in the Waid family plot in the little cemetery in Tryonville. Her husband lived another nine years, leaving their two daughters, Christina and Alice, to be raised by maiden aunts. While this is an interesting bit of family history, our tale doesn't start here. It does not begin until 2008.

Meadville is a quaint town nestled among the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Like most of Pennsylvania, it has long historical roots that date back to early settlements in the 1700's. The Crawford County Historical Society takes an active role in the community, part of which is preserving and protecting one of its most valuable assets, the Baldwin Reynolds House Museum. This three-story, 23 room mansion was built in 1843 by US Supreme Court Justice, Henry Baldwin. Our story starts in a closet within this stately home.

In 1986 a quilt was found, rolled up in the deep recesses of a bedroom closet during an inventory of the house. Inside the quilt was a photo of a young woman, its maker, Mary Jane Tryon. The quilt was interesting. Made entirely of 3" blocks, each executed in a pieced basket with appliquéd handle and constructed from pinks and madders scraps.

However, the really unique aspect was its orientation. Two thirds of the quilt blocks went one direction while the other third went another. The quilt was appropriately placed with the museum's quilt collection. Except for a weekend furlough in 1992 when it was presented with the rest of the collection at a show it resumed its quiet rest for another 22 years.

In February of 2008, a small, fledgling group, the NW Pennsylvania Quilt Study Group, decided it was time to expand beyond its current contingency of three members. They printed up some flyers and left them at quilt shops announcing their next meeting. My friend Jill and I decided to attend that meeting. It was held at a local quilt shop that was displaying a collection of antique quilts made by the owner's aunt. The plan was for the group to study each quilt and then the following weekend conduct two "bed turnings" for the public. The quilts would be stacked on a large table and then each would be discussed and then "turned" to display the next. Peg Weymer, antique quilt dealer and textile curator for the Baldwin Reynolds House would assist with the discussion. It was a perfect moment. Quilts and quilters surrounded by enormous amounts of fabric. What could be better?

The Tryon Quilt
The bed turning was a huge success and afterwards Peg remarked that the Baldwin Reynolds House would love to do a quilt show of their collection of quilts and would the group be willing to assist? A date was set for everyone to meet at the museum and bring out the collection to begin the planning process. The museum was still closed for the season and the quiet made the house seem more like a home rather than open to public domain.

The quilts are housed upstairs in a huge closet sandwiched between two bedrooms in archival boxes. Peg gingerly pulled each box from their dark sanctuary and brought it to one of the beds. As the tissue covering each was turned back revealing the boxes occupant, the quilt seemed to come alive. Gloved hands gently unfolded each and spread it across the bed. Every quilt had a distinct personality and character permeated into it by their maker which was instantly channeled through mere touch. All the women soon had their own favorites until the last box was opened. Out came the Mary Jane Tryon quilt. It spread across the bed in a wave. Peg remarked that she thought this should be the "flagship" quilt of our show. Everyone readily agreed.

It was decided that a pattern of Mary Jane's quilt would be created and would be offered for sale for additional revenue for the historical society. I volunteered to make a raffle quilt. A number of "quilt chats" would be presented during the run of the show, and my friend, Jill volunteered to talk about Mary Jane and her quilt.

Jill needed to do research for her "chat" on Mary Jane, so it was natural to decide to travel to Tryonville where the family home is still standing and is occupied and I asked to tag along. Tryonville is a very remote small town at a crossroads in the middle of miles of bucolic countryside. The Tryon family home sits on the corner of the north/east section of the crossroads.

Mary Jane Tryon's home as it is today
Pulling up to the front of the house was like stepping back in time. A pristine white Federal style home presented itself exactly as it would have been in Mary Jane's lifetime. A three-car garage, that looked like a carriage shed, was the only sense of the modern. Tall trees shaded the corner lot interspersed among several outbuildings and interesting gardens.

Kathryn Brady, the current mistress of the manor, was gracious and helpful. Her knowledge of the Tryon family was informative. Kathryn conducted a house tour through the living quarters. Stepping into the library, a small paneled room with a fireplace, you could almost feel the former occupants passing by you as gentle wisps of cool air. It was easy to picture Mary Jane, sitting in a chair by the fire, piecing away on her basket quilt with it spread around her on the floor like a train. Did she make it for a reason? Was it for her hope chest? So many questions most would remain unanswered.

As we exited the library into the adjacent room we made a discovery. The small room was filled with the most wondrous works of art; sculptures, each crafted from wire and metal, all varying in size, making each unique and original. Their maker, Bill Brady, Jr., is the 68-year-old step son of the 83-year-old young Kathryn.

Katheryn Brady and son Bill Brady Jr.
BM Brady, Jr. is a very interesting man. Small in stature with long hair and equally long beard, his appearance is magical and he could easily have stepped from the pages of a storybook. His manner is gentle and shy. He explained that he had started out life making reproduction colonial lighting and that the sculptors were just a natural evolution of that medium for him. He remarked, if we liked these, he had more out in his garage. Jill and I were mesmerized and asked if we could see the others.

BM led the way to his shop. On the wall, on rows of shelving, were uncountable amounts of whimsical creations. The ceiling was resplendid in hanging sculptors, the next more ingenious than the last. It was an amazing experience, like finding a treasure.

It was getting dark and we still wanted to visit the Tryonville cemetery to see if they could locate Mary Jane's grave. We all piled into my Jeep and drove to the small cemetery nestled next to a stream. As we got out, Jill and Kathryn headed right towards the Tryon family plot. As I followed, something tugged at my attention and I diverted my path to a headstone which seemed to be somewhat luminous in the fading sunlight.

Mary Jane Tryon. Wife of Warren H. Waid. Born April 24, 1829 Died April 6, 1865 was faithfully inscribed on the stone. "Here she is," I called to my companions. As the twilight descended on us, we all felt a connection that was not severed by time and space.

Mary Jane Tryon's final resting place
Mary Jane Tryon came into our lives because we knew her as the maker of a quilt. We were able to connect with her in a way only quilters could identify with. She was a daughter, a wife, and a mother. She had hopes and dreams like we all do. All quilts absorb the energy of their maker. If quilts are signed or the maker is known, then the experience is so much the better. Through this scrappy basket quilt we were able to communicate with Mary Jane and for a time, she lived again through us, with us, around us.

A side bar to all of this is that I could not get Bill Brady's work out of my mind. I called the gallery director of the Stonewall Gallery which is part of the Campbell Pottery Store in Cambridge Springs, PA. and asked if she would entertain having a show of some new work. I had shot pictures of Bill's work and the director was as taken with Bill's sculptors as we were. Bill's sculptors and the watercolors of another artist opened the gallery's 2009 season in April. It was not lost on us that April was a significant month for Mary Jane, both for her birth and that of her passing. The show was a huge success for Bill Brady. Bill's work would have remained undiscovered if it were not for Mary Jane.

Months later, I was visiting Kathryn and as we walked the grounds of hers and Mary Jane's home, I commented, "If we never knew that Mary Jane had made that quilt none of this would have happened. Bill would not have had his show, we would have never known you, it was as if she was orchestrating the whole thing." Kathryn smiled sweetly and said, "Why Judith, she will always be with us. We are linked through time by a thread that is wrapped in hopes and dreams" Kathryn is so very right.

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About the author:

Judith Stoll is the Sales Coordinator at Campbell Pottery in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. She is a board member at the Crawford County Historical Society, and actively participates in community events centered on the history of Cambridge Springs. Judith has a passionate love for the art of quilting, and she derives great happiness in sharing her passion with others in the area.