The premise of The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857 is both intriguing and straightforward: to recover the history of a nineteenth-century Relief Society quilt and the life stories of the women who stitched it together. The intrigue began when Carol Holindrake Nielson learned that her family would someday inherit “The Quilt,” an object her husband believed could be a picnic quilt made by his grandmother. Twenty-five years later, the quilt arrived in Nielson’s home after her mother-in-law presented it to Nielson’s husband. When the plain white backing was unfolded, the Nielsons discovered half of a carefully crafted quilt with individual squares decorated with birds, flowers, fruits, and geometric patterns, each square signed by its maker. Nielson learned from her mother-in-law that her husband’s great-great-grandfather, Richard Stephen Horne, won the quilt in a raffle when he was twelve years old. Oral tradition and written life stories confirm that Richard cut the quilt in half after the death of his first wife and gave half to each of his two oldest daughters. The pieces then passed from mother to daughter. Because the author’s mother-in-law had no daughters, she gave the quilt to her son.
Believing “only a man” could cut such a beautiful quilt in half, but grateful that her family, who descended from the second-oldest daughter, received any part of the quilt at all, the author set out to find the other half of the quilt. Nielson gathered information about Horne’s descendants and made phone calls asking about any knowledge of the quilt. Within days she learned that the other half of the quilt was near where she lived in the Salt Lake Valley with a distant cousin descended from Horne’s oldest daughter. Nielson describes the reunion of the quilt halves and the cousins as a “photo frenzy,” with everyone holding the two halves of the quilt together. While the family history intrigue surrounding the quilt was resolved rather easily, Nielson still felt a strong desire to learn more about the quilt itself and the lives of the women who created and donated it for the raffle. Nielson explains, “The posterity of the women who sewed the quilt must see the needlework of their ancestral mothers. . . . A sense of urgency overwhelmed me. I felt compelled to learn the stories of the pioneer women, the artists, of the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society.” This book is the fruit of Nielson’s desire to share a knowledge of the quilt with other descendants of the women who stitched it and with anyone else who will learn from and appreciate the quilt, its history, and its makers.