With all the emphasis on country music in Nashville, it is easy to forget that the city is also the state capital. One thing that can sometimes be found in a state capital is a state museum.
State museums are odd ducks. They are paid for with tax money, and the workers are employees of the state. History is often presented in a patriotic manner, with large chunks of what might be uncomfortable to present being glossed over or just omitted altogether. For instance, one Southern state museum I’ve visited talks all about how cotton mills were important to the economy of that state, and goes so far as to talk about the mill village as a product of mill owner’s charity. Not a word is written about the struggle of mill workers to gain safe working conditions and decent wages.
I’ve come to expect this carefully edited form of history from both state and municipal museums. In many cases, they seem to have exhibits based on what they think will attract interest, as in the North Carolina Museum of History and its exhibit on Nascar, or the Atlanta History Center and the room full of golfer Bobby Jones artifacts. And of course, every Southern history museum has a shrine to that enduring lost cause, the American Civil War.
Which brings me to my recent visit to the Tennessee State Museum. I’m afraid that we really didn’t do the place justice, as the morning had been spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the early afternoon in a place called Honky Tonky Central, which was loud and fun. But we somehow made our way up the hill (who knew Nashville is so hilly?) and into the museum.
It was not the best conditions for trying to absorb more information, being tired and full of burgers and beer. But museums are there to be visited, and Tim gamely agreed to a look, though I knew he’d rather be browsing the aisles of the great urban market and bakery we had passed. As a result, we accidentally missed an entire chunk of the museum. But because one of the major players in that chunk was Andrew Jackson, I was not concerned. I’m not a fan of our seventh president.
As one enters the main floor of the museum, there is a large exhibition on the prehistoric story of Tennessee. We decided to by-pass the fossils and early American artifacts, and headed to a lower level. In this area we enjoyed the exhibition relating to social movements within Tennessee. The top photo shows a banner made by members of Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.
Interestingly, there was also a display of artifacts from the Temperance Movement. That is a quilt made and signed by the Chattanooga, Tennessee Chapter of the Women’s Temperance Union.
Maybe because we missed part of the early story, I just could not get a sense of time in the museum. One minute we were looking at items that were important in 1920, and then we rounded a corner to encounter a Civil War scene.
Thrown into the mix was this outfit that belonged to singer Isaac Hayes, who was a Tennessee native.
But there was a quilt room with some fantastic examples of the quilter’s craft. The one above is the winding blades pattern and was made in Clarksville, TN in the 1870s. The quilts are mounted on diagonal surfaces which allows for decent viewing without putting too much stress on the textiles.
I loved this idea. I’ve been to lots of museums and have seen a lot of quilts exhibited, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen a quilting frame set up in a museum.
Finally, the museum had what is probably the finest crazy quilt I’ve ever seen. It was started in 1884 by Elizabeth Cheney Cash, and finished in 1954 by Harold Cash. Unfortunately, that is all I can tell you. Was Harold the son or grandson of Elizabeth? The museum does not share that information with the visitor.
All the photos below can be enlarged by clicking. In doing so you will be rewarded with glimpses of some very fine needlework.