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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Book Review by Kimberly Wulfert 

 The War, the Quilts, and the Women Who made a Difference
by An Keuning-Tichelaar and Lynn Kaplanian-Buller
Published by Good Books, 2005

An excerpt from the book and photos were provided by the publisher and are at the end of review

This heartwarming book is primarily set in the Netherlands during and immediately following WWII. It is well written and easy to read the emotional and historical story of An. An, now 82, was a devoted anti-war protestor in today's terms. At that time she was part of the resistance movement who helped the refugees and Jewish people during the terrible years of World War II in Holland.  An married a Mennonite minister, Herman, in order to help these survivors as much as humanly possible. She and Herman helped thousands of women, children and men trying to escape by housing them secretly in their attic for months at a time when necessary. They provided food, clothes, bathing, and bedding. 

The stories An writes are personal experiences of hers that could not be found anywhere else. I was crying and touched and on the edge of my seat much of the time. It was suspenseful as she talked about her daily work. I learned a great deal more about the European's War experience and I am left humbled by this book. it was so enriching to my life, I highly recommend this book to you. It would be a wonderful gift, especially to older people that may have been more intricately involved with WWII due to their age.

It wasn't until after the War ended that An contacted the Mennonite Relief Organization or Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to provide blankets for the people leaving her church hiding place to re-enter the community and return to their former land. The MCC sent very thin quilts- or rag blankets - as they referred to them, as quilt was not a well known term. They were too thin for sleeping on or under in Holland's climate, so An contacted them again and was sent 50 comforters (tied, not quilted) and quilts. These provided enough for the people with some left over.  It is these quilts, utility in description, but graphically beautiful in their visual essence, that are now touring on exhibit and featured in the book. 

Lynn Kaplanian-Buller is the co-author and younger women, who came to Holland from Minnesota during the Vietnam War with similar desires to help the peace cause. She had attended a Mennonite church in the US, but ended up marrying an Israeli man she met in Holland, and together they worked for peace between the Palestinian's and the Israelis. Lynn came upon the quilts while on a retreat of sorts, in a home where An was storing the quilt.  It was years later that she met An, and even years after that when the quilts were put into her care, as a gift from An.

The quilts came in simple block patterns of log cabin, monkey wrench, bowties and other familiar patterns. Sometimes they had cables quilted in the borders with diagonal lines across the center, while others were tied. Although the colors seem light and are probably faded from use, they still have color and reflect a hidden beauty in the photos taken of them. There are no patterns or close-ups because this is not a quilt book of that type. The authors provide a source if you would like to make the quilts or donate some to the relief effort today.

Mennonite groups in Canada and Pennsylvania provided much of the clothing, shoes, food, quilts and blankets to aid the War effort. These groups felt a closer tie to Holland than  the other countries because of their past affiliation with this small country that had helped them in their time of need.  Much of what Lynn contributes to the book are quotes and facts from  Mennonite and Holland archives, which add a great deal to the story. The old photographs featured throughout the book do much to enhance the readers understanding in terms of setting the time period and the landscape, putting faces to the people, and color photos show the quilts. There are maps too. The book does not get the least bit bogged down in facts about the war. It is about the people. 

Did you know that there were children's camps? When the War ended those people who collaborated with the Germans were tried and sentenced, leaving thousands of children stranded. Did you know that shoes were the hardest item to provide for the refugees, so the new owners would cut out the toes to make them fit and put wooden soles on those with holes? Did you know the women wore dresses made from tablecloths and bedspreads and that coats were cut down to fit others? There are many threads of history woven through this biographical book of two strong and giving women with huge hearts. This book is in honor of them and all the attention they and their quilt exhibit receive is well deserved.

- end -

Here is an excerpt taken  from the middle of the book.
Published by Good Books; May 2005; $14.95US; 1-56148-482-2

Lynn -- January 1980
Discovering the quilts

"I wasn't sure why we had come. As we approached the idyllic country house over the only access, a bicycle path laid out of bricks, I wondered how the weekend would go, especially because we were bringing the only child. These gatherings of Palestinian students, all male, mostly Christian, usually centered on the menu. The guys had taught themselves to cook while studying and enjoyed (almost) nothing more than spending hours planning, shopping for, preparing home recipes, and telling jokes in Arabic together in a big kitchen, then eating it with their loved ones. Everything they did together -- washing up and preparing coffee, too -- was so in contrast to the usual image of Arab men that we women used to laugh.

"If any authorities picked up these six guys for questioning, they wouldn't agree on anything politically, but they could recite -- down to the spices -- the complete menus of the previous week. Gentle, homey guys, they thrived on speaking their native language together, especially enjoying the intricate double entendres which Arabic provides.

"The most far-flung of the group had been complaining to his fellow psychology students that he was missing his "brothers." One of their friends, after consulting with her parents, invited the student named Samir, to come to her parents' weekend house with all his Palestinian buddies and their families. So here we came.

"Avo and I and our three-year-old daughter, Nadine, traveled up from Landsmeer, just above the Amsterdam harbor. The oldest of the student lot and the most settled, we both worked at demanding jobs and tried to bring Nadine up in the best of three cultures -- Palestinian, American, and Dutch -- mostly during evenings and weekends. We were tired constantly. Upon arriving, I was relieved to see that the farmhouse was large enough that I could peel off early to sleep next to Nadine if the guys started one of their all-night, low-stakes poker games. Nadine would wake early the next morning, of course, and it would be my turn to get up with her.

"After seven years in the Netherlands, I still marveled at Europeans' ability to get together just to be together or to take a walk just for the pleasure of it. In Minnesota, we got together to Do Something Useful. Celebrations counted as a good reason, but there had to be a focus. And one went for a walk only to blow off steam, to cogitate heavily, or to get to some place specific. We would never just walk around together. Always eager to fulfill others' expectations, I often felt adrift in these gatherings of Palestinian men and European women, most of whom were still students. Added to this was my role as a working mother and I often felt somewhat confused about how I fit into these events. I learned to stop worrying about what others might be expecting of me and tried to do what made the most sense, while doing no intentional harm to others.

"We walked into the farmhouse which had a huge open ceiling where the hayloft had been removed, and hanging on the wall was a quilt which looked very North American. The house was charming. Full of antique toys and built-in cupboards, it was warmed by a cast iron pot-bellied stove which threw off a cozy heat, necessary to counter the drafts which sneaked in around the poured-glaze windows. Some of the bedrooms, converted stalls, had very low ceilings. Others, up under the hayloft, were very high and long. As I walked through, my wonder increased. A handmade quilt covered every bed, and every closet held stacks of more folded quilts.

"Who lived here? Where did these quilts come from? Who were these people? I asked Samir.

"He thought the parents of his friend were a minister couple -- Baptists, or something to do with Menno Simons. What? Menno Simons? That was a name I hadn't heard since my church instruction class in Mt. Lake, Minnesota. How could there be Mennonites way over here, and with such a long history? All I knew was that Mennonites had all been emigrants from colonies in the Ukraine, they all spoke a 16th-century Dutch/Germanic dialect, and they had come to North America to avoid being pressed into military service, based upon principals of non-violence set out by Menno Simons. Had they started a colony in the Netherlands, too?

"A new chapter opened in my life. We had a lovely weekend. Nadine slept in the built-in bed closet, which was painted a lovely salmon-pink with turquoise trim. And when we arrived home, our son was conceived in the afterglow of a deeply pleasing day.

"The quilts stayed in my mind. The week following, I tracked down the telephone number of the house's owners and asked Mrs. Keuning if it would be possible for me to purchase one of the quilts, explaining that they reminded me so much of home. Mrs. Keuning said that she couldn't sell me a quilt because they weren't her property, but that I could come choose one to have. I didn't understand her gesture -- my knowledge of the Dutch language was not strong enough to pick up subtleties -- nor did her offer fit into any imaginable context in my mind. I knew the price of quilts in quilt stores, and I certainly didn't consider just taking one from a stranger. Besides, if they weren't hers, how could she give one away?

"About 10 years later, I was busy thinking up ways to tell the story of Thanksgiving Day to the Dutch customers of our American bookstores in Amsterdam and The Hague. Quilting had become a very popular handcraft by then, and our store was an important source for Dutch women wanting to learn the patterns and history of North American quilts. Recalling the quilts in the farmhouse near Drachten, I called Mrs. Keuning again to ask if we could perhaps exhibit the quilts in the bookstore's art gallery. As I explained who I was, she interrupted: 'Lynn! When are you coming to get your quilt?'

'I can't accept a quilt from you,' I stammered.

'Well, why not?' she asked. 'What have I done wrong now?'

'You haven't done anything wrong at all,' I explained. 'It's just much too large a gift to extend to a stranger, or to accept from a stranger. But would you consider showing the quilts at an exhibition? And coming for Thanksgiving dinner in the store? Perhaps we can get to know each other better.'

"An agreed.

"A few months later, as she, her daughter, Anke, and I walked past the large store window hung with her quilts, she gasped. Later, she explained that the quilts had served as the sole keeper of her stories about all the struggles of the War years. When she saw the quilts exhibited in public, she felt freed to also tell her stories for the first time. Before she told others, she wanted to tell her daughter who, until then in 1989, had no idea of the part her parents had played in the Underground Resistance during World War II. Until that time, An had simply said that the quilts came to Friesland from North Americans as relief goods for the Europeans who had no blankets left after the war.

"An and her husband Herman, their daughter Anke, and my family -- Avo, Nadine, and Paul, now 10 -- ate Thanksgiving dinner together and learned to know each other a little bit. An and I felt a recognition and a friendship far older and deeper than was possible. It was a kind of comfort and a wordless understanding though we had just met, and she is 28 years older than I am.

"I would not hear the stories, however, until much later."

Copyright 2005 by Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534

Reprinted from Passing on the Comfort: The War, The Quilts, and the Women Who Made a Difference. New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, Copyright by Good Books (www.goodbks.com). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Author info:

An Keuning-Tichelaar was born in 1922 in Makkum, a harborplace near Witmarsum, Friesland, the Netherlands. Married in 1944, she is the mother of three children. Her home, a parsonage, has always been a haven for needy children, youth, and adults.

Lynn Kaplanian-Buller was born in 1949 in Heron Lake, Minnesota. She and her husband raised two children in three cultures while taking over and managing a bookstore company in the Netherlands (www.abc.nl). She is active in the Dutch Mennonite Relief organization, her own church council, and Rotary.

The quilts were traveling on tour as late as 2006, which was coordinated by the Mennonite Central Committee. Here's what they say about it on to their Web site:

"The Passing on the Comfort travelling exhibit has completed a successful first phase reaching 38 different communities since April 2005. No bookings are being accepted for the exhibit while we exploring several options for the continuation of the project. Please direct any questions to Dave Worth at dgw@mcc.org."


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2005 - 2016 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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