In the 1990s after an already fulfilling and accomplished life, Jim Tharpe began gathering the family quilts that had been passed down through the years. It seemed right that they all be preserved in one place. Jim had been the recipient of quilts from his mother and grandmother, and had developed an appreciation of the time, effort and love that go into a quilt. He is honored to care for this extensive collection of quilts representing six generations of family quilters.


The first quilt Jim received in this collection was the “Pineapple” titled Hexagonal Patchwork that dates back to the slave era. It is an exquisite example of intricate workmanship, skilled color choice, and artistic expression. It has been preserved under glass to protect it from deterioration. Look closely at the thoughtful details in this historical quilt pattern that often depicts hospitality. An important element in the story of these quilts is that some of them may have been used in the Underground Railroad. Some quilt historians believe that codes were indicated in the patterns of quilts, thus the name of the modern accompanying patterns, “Beyond the Code”. Jim is a wealth of information, gleaned over the years from other quilters and family members,d about the folklore and symbolism stitched into these quilts. Dots, colors, and odd blocks all have significance in the overall plan of the quilt.


This exhibit came together after a chance meeting of Jim Tharpe and Jill Therriault. Jim’s experience as the owner and family heir to the collection and Jill’s passion as a quilter soon brought about the idea of creating a traveling exhibit to share these beautiful quilts with the public. Jill had much to learn about the roots of the African American quilting tradition and Jim had much to learn about the modern quilting community. Both are working to get this collection in the public eye.


The first three “Beyond the Code” quilt patterns are available in the Museum’s gift shop. All 12 quilts will eventually be available in pattern form


May these quilts spark new ideas about the representation of your family heritage, and educate all on craft in American history.