I know little of my great-great-grandmother Rhoda Johnson Coleman. But one possession that has come down to me provides a tantalizing glimpse of her. She wove by hand the antique counterpane coverlet above in Cady, Ohio, in 1837. That puts the age of the coverlet at one hundred seventy-five years. Although the edges show wear, the counterpane is in remarkable condition given its history. It was passed down through four generations before reaching me, two of which were my great-aunt Rhoda and my mother, Frances Rhoda Hilst. Although I am not a namesake, I receive it proudly.
A weathered note passed down with the counterpane also reveals that Rhoda raised, carded and made into thread the flax with which she wove the piece. It is a rich, oriental design of exotic birds feeding nests of their young, bordered by rows of pagoda-style buildings. The deep blue of the indigo dye remains a sharp contrast to the natural flax-colored figures.
Before receiving the coverlet, I did not know the name of my great-great-grandmother on my mother’s side. It is only because her name remained with her handiwork that I know it now. Art takes many forms. In Rhoda’s day, it was utilitarian; and yet it survives today as a tangible tribute to a life lived.