Currently on display in the Farley Library is an exhibit entitled “Caution: Women at Work.” With guiding yellow and black caution signs, the exhibit allows one an educational journey through the history of occupations and career fields women have worked in over the years.
The exhibit is anchored around a large quilt hanging in the center of the display. The quilt, created by Wilkes Professor of Spanish Gina Thackara, forces the viewer to explore 12 different occupations representing a general scope of female occupations from the early development of the Wyoming Valley to now.
The Beacon had the opportunity to sit down with Thackara to discuss her inspiration for the development of the quilt and her appreciation for the ordinary women that kept life running smoothly and society progressing through the generations.
The quilt takes a journey from different groups of women categorized by occupations that tie back to the development of the Wyoming Valley. What was your motivation for creating this quilt that represents this?
Thackara: I wanted to honor the gals, the invisible people who actually carried an awful lot of society forward. The ones who got up every morning, went to work and supported their kids. The single women who didn’t want to be depend on dad and mom, who wanted something bigger for themselves. The women who worked hard and gave it their all. I wanted to show and honor these women.
What is the main message that you want people to understand or appreciate about the quilt?
Thackara: When I talked with the curator over here [Luzerne County Historical Society], we discussed how the men that always honored. What about the girls? What about the women? This is for the ordinary gals, the invisible people. These are not the people who you will read about in the history books. They are not famous. I want people to recognize the ones who contribute the same to make history happen.
How did you pick up the hobby of quilting?
Thackara: I need to be doing something; I can’t sit still long. I like to be in action. My mom was a knitter, my aunt was a sewer and my grandmother did quilts. Crafts are a skills and I didn’t want to be left out. There is magic when you could take your hands and create something.
Why did you pick these 12 occupations?
Thackara: Mary Ruth [the Luzerne County Historical Society curator] and I had talked about a representational scope of people.
If we included everyone and all of the occupations we would be covering essentially a semi-truck with a quilt.
We tried to narrow it down by going through the history of the valley. We narrowed occupations down to who were widely influential for the valley. I could probably do another three quilts with this idea alone.
What is the meaning behind the middle of the quilt?
Thackara: Back in the day there was a woman who designed blocks for the Chicago Tribune. It was a big thing because people would buy the newspaper for these designs; it kept the newspaper business running.
This block designed by Nancy Cabot as part of her 1930s block design segment for the Chicago paper to honor geographic areas of our country. This is the Wyoming Valley block. It was actually designed for this area.
This middle block shows a landscape of stars in the night sky, rolling green mountains, blue shades of a river and large rocks boarding, Pennsylvania’s state flower (mountain laurel) and other leaves common to the woodsy areas of Pennsylvania. This landscape depiction could be admiring everyday living in the Wyoming Valley.
The 12 occupations include military women, pioneer women, miner’s wives and maids, nurses, teachers, clergy wives, clerks and waitresses, telephone operators, female barge workers, nuns, secretaries and factory workers. To learn more about the blocks of the quilt, visit the exhibit in the Farley Library.