In the early days of Bradley University, Manual Arts and Domestic Economy were the two largest departments in what was then Bradley Polytechnic Institute. Domestic Economy evolved to the Domestic Science Division, with two departments-Household Arts and Household Science-separately administered until the mid-1920s. The department’s name evolved as well, to the discipline known as Home Economics.
Today, Family and Consumer Sciences has become the favored terminology, recognizing the strong focus on the scientific aspects of food and nutrition, child development and family relationships, consumer education-including financial literacy-and human ecology and living environments.
Yet the domestic arts flourish in daily life. The diva of domesticity has fallen from grace, but her eponymous magazine, Martha Stewart Living, still promises good things for your family: "timeless pleasures, timeless treasures, things that matter, things that last." Entertaining, cooking, decorating, gardening, homekeeping, collecting, and restoring formed the heart of her enterprise.
Meanwhile, on TV, chefs show off their skills in creating new and appealing meals, and we seek out new recipes and means of presentation on the Internet. Home and Garden TV extols the sanctuary a well-decorated home provides. Gardens with water features, statuary, and well-designed plantings reflect the latest passion for a beautiful environment. And what used to be known as sewing or needlework-in today’s curriculum, apparel and textiles-translates into creative works of art, sometimes involving computer-generated patterns and computerized machines.
When the National Quilting Association meets June 24 to 26 in Peoria for its 35th Anniversary Quilt Show, it will showcase not only tradition, but also the modern interpretation of what was once a highly utilitarian practice. Quilting-stitching a layer of filling between two layers of fabric-has a history that includes the peoples of northern China and the knights of the Middle Ages. Stories even tell of quilts serving as signal flags, alerting slaves to safe houses on the Underground Railroad. Quilting created warmer garments and blankets. American quilting often involved recycling scraps into blankets. In skilled hands, quilting transforms fabric into art.
A well-coordinated effort to showcase quilts and stitchery has resulted in exhibits all over Peoria, embracing even the millions of buttons in the memorial at The Shoppes at Grande Prairie commemorating Holocaust victims. Lakeview Museum’s Illinois Folk Art Gallery has its recently enlarged collection of quilts on display from March 30 through July 3. The Peoria Historical Society’s Flanagan House Museum and Pettengill-Morron House have arranged their treasured quilts for the public to see. Peoria’s Tricentennial Quilt, assembled for the city’s 1992 celebration, is displayed at Flanagan.
At the Peoria Art Guild, "A Patchwork Presence" highlights today’s technologies and computer-driven techniques in a show lasting through June 27. The Peoria Public Library is displaying individually crafted whimsical dolls. And at convention headquarters in Peoria’s Civic Center, visitors will see several hundred quilts, including special exhibits featuring past Best of Show winners.
Those enrolled in Bradley’s Institute for Learning in Retirement were recently treated to a showing of more than a dozen pieced, appliquéd, embroidered, and quilted works by local quilter Machiko Yamamoto, a native of Japan. Her work includes traditional patterns, geometrics, stitched designs, and quilted renderings of famous paintings and art prints.
Later this summer, family and consumer sciences teachers from middle schools, high schools, and colleges across Illinois will gather in Peoria for their annual meeting. As a fundraiser, they’ve assembled a "memory quilt" from blocks created by members.
But the scientific aspects of human ecosystems will continue to be the focus of academic departments, said Dr. Nina Collins, FCS department chair at Bradley. Her book, An Industrious and Useful Life: The History of Home Economics at Bradley University, chronicles the evolution of the discipline. Published some 10 years ago, it noted the challenge of the 1980s was to maintain academic integrity in a rapidly changing discipline, particularly when female students had many other options available to them.
Dr. Collins maintained that in earliest days, the field of home economics served a subversive agenda, providing an entrée into higher education for women through study of socially accepted activities related to the home. Nevertheless, when Bradley Home Ec Department Chair Dr. Doris Hoye Wilson retired in 1982, she received a friendship quilt made of individual squares fashioned by her professional and personal friends.
Congratulations to the member quilters of the Gems of the Prairie Guild, who are helping welcome the NQA to Peoria, and a salute to the artistry in domestic life. AA!