Quilt brings presidential spirit to library, by Pam Christensen

The spirit of Abraham Lincoln lives at Peter White Public Library. This may come as a surprise because Lincoln is not generally associated with the Upper Peninsula. He more often is tied to Kentucky and Illinois.

Nevertheless, Lincoln has made a home at PWPL for the past several years due to the generosity of Ike Slee. A friend of Slee, Gloria DeBartolo called the library several years ago to inquire if he could give a quilt as a gift to the library.
If you have visited PWPL, you probably are aware of the many collections on display. There are bells, samovars, elephants, clowns and items from Japan and Finland. The Rachel Spear Bell Collection was featured in Marquette Monthly a number of issues ago. It is a well-loved collection, and one people ask about when visiting Marquette. They remember the bells from their childhood and frequently bring their children to see them.
The samovars were a gift of Wayne Javala along with a beautiful cabinet that Wayne was sure was built and carved in Karelia. The elephants graced the windows of Paulette Lindberg’s travel agency on Third Street for many years. When Paulette retired, she asked the library if it would like them, so that they could continue to bring joy to people of all ages. The clown collection was a recent gift of Marquette resident Bob Horning. Of course the Japanese and Finnish articles are a perfect way to highlight Marquette’s two sister cities—Higashiomi and Kajaani.
But back to Lincoln. When DeBartolo called, PWPL told her it would love to display the quilt, but probably could not place it at the library permanently, due to space concerns. She said that was fine, that Ike wanted to share it with the community. His wife passed away in 1994, and Ike wanted people to know how creative she was.
“Everyone who sees her quilts is amazed to learn that she designed each one and did all of the work by hand,” he said.
The quilt is truly a work of art. It has a silhouette of Lincoln, his biography and the text of the Gettysburg Address stitched on it. The queen-sized piece is white with white-on-white quilting. The text is done in black embroidery. Thin accent borders of navy and red bring color to it. Quilted stars offers symbolism and movement to the quilt. When placed on a bed and viewed from the head of the bed, only the portrait of Lincoln is visible. Ike did not think Marion planned for this to happen, but for some unexplainable reason, it did.
Lincoln is a fascinating man, but the story of the quilt’s design and stitching are almost as interesting. Ike retired from General Motors as did Marion.
Upon retirement, they moved to Drummond Island. Marion had worked in the upholstery shop for GM. She often was called upon to create custom upholstery for vehicles special ordered for celebrities or dignitaries.
“She had a way with fabric and could get it to do just about anything,” Ike said.
Once retired, Marion took up quilting. She designed, stitched and quilted each by hand. She liked to use flowers as a theme and created several beautiful quilts featuring the fifty states. One features the state name and state flower, while another has the state bird and flower.
Another popular theme, only natural given her and Ike’s history, was cars. According to Ike, she made several quilts that featured historic automobiles. Tom Monahan, former owner of Domino’s Pizza, automobile collector and Drummond Island resident, begged to buy one of her car quilts or to commission one, but Marion never wanted to part with her creations.
Ike supported Marion’s quilting habit and helped by creating all sorts of frames, tools and gadgets to make her hobby more efficient. His crowning moment has to be the custom quilt frame he made for the Lincoln quilt. Marion was having trouble embroidering all of the words. Her quilt frame did not allow her to see enough of the quilt to be sure the stitching of the words was consistent and the lines straight. Ike worked and worked to come up with the proper frame for this project. Finally, he built a frame, almost quilt-sized, that contained heavy plate glass that would hold Marion’s weight. Marion would lie on the frame and reach over the sides to embroider and quilt. The glass allowed her to see the completed work and to align the new stitching. She completed the Lincoln quilt in 1990.
The quilt was highlighted as part of a PWPL Civil War programming series featuring Civil War history, Lincoln and music of the period. The staff expected it would be hung in the library for a while and then returned to Ike.
Of course, the story does not end there. The quilt became a topic of conversation. When staff informed visitors it was a temporary exhibit, they expressed dismay. Several people asked if it could remain until friends or relatives, most often quilters, could come to Marquette to see it.
Ike was in no rush to have the quilt back, especially if it was enjoyed by library visitors. PWPL staff kept extending the quilt’s stay, until now—it has become a permanent fixture. It is a PWPL attraction just like the bells and elephants.
Ike passed away in June 2007, and the quilt remains at PWPL in tribute to three very special and talented people—Ike, Marion and our former president.
PWPL will celebrate Lincoln’s 199th birthday, two days early, on February 10 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. The Lincoln Birthday Penny Party will feature live music by the MSHS Fiddle Club, penny games and activities. A birthday cake also will be part of the celebration.
The library will accept loose change and currency for the one million penny collection, which has broken the 800,000 mark. It would be wonderful to collect the pennies needed to complete the goal before Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
The PWPL has two other quilts in its collection. The story of these two works of art and how they found their way to the library will be told at a later date. For now, the Lincoln quilt and the Slee family have become part of the fabric of Peter White Public Library and the Marquette landscape.
—Pam Christensen, library director

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