A Bicentennial Quilt Made by 15 Black Women Was Stolen From the Oregon Historical Society During Sunday’s Riot

The quilt was discovered several blocks away with damage from the rain.

OHS Exhibit Production Manager Franc Gigante and OHS Deputy Museum Director Nicole Yasuhara install the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt in the pavilion at the Oregon Historical Society in September 2020. (Oregon Historical Society)

Among the damage to the Oregon Historical Society last night: the theft of the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt. It was later located blocks away from the building, soaked by rain.

OHS executive director Kerry Tymchuk said people smashed the glass doors surrounding the building's entrance, and rioters threw flares through the smashed windows, leaving scorch marks on the carpet. Someone else threw paint over a mural on the Sovereign Hotel building.

"We are deeply saddened and hurt by the destruction of property," Tymchuk said in a statement. "While windows can be replaced, our greatest concern has been for the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt, which was taken from its display in our pavilion last night. Each square of the quilt, crafted in the mid-1970s, honors a Black individual or moment in history, and was sewn by 15 Black women from Portland, who donated it to OHS and entrusted it to our care."

The quilt was stolen amid a spree of damage at a Sunday night rally called the "Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage."

KGW-TV reporter Maggie Vespa tweeted Monday that the quilt was discovered blocks away from the OHS building, and that it was wet from the rain, bleeding pigments, and had a small tear.

According to OHS's website, the textiles on the quilt were created as far back as 1974. After being first shown at the OHS in 1976, the 30-panel quilt was taken on a cross-country tour and exhibited at the U.S. Department of State, the Smithsonian Institution, and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University.

The quilt had been on display in the OHS building's pavilion since Oct. 1 for Portland Textile Month. On Oct. 15, Portland Textile Month is hosting a free virtual event specifically for the bicentennial quilt, called Stitching History: The Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt (the event was scheduled prior to the theft of the quilt). Sylvia Gates Carlisle, one of the original quilters, will be a featured panelist.

For now, Tymchuk says, the quilt will remain off of public display "as our collections team assesses any care needs."

"As we clean up broken glass, scrub paint, and make plans to ensure safety in our building, we also, as always, welcome critique of our work," Tymchuk said in a statement. "We would be grateful to have constructive feedback from all those who are willing and able to aid OHS in fulfilling our vision of an Oregon story that is meaningful to all Oregonians."

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