The University of Alabama
The Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilt Collection
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The Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilts Collection at the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama, is a representative cross section of quilts and coverlets from various regions in the United States dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the 2000s. The collection contains examples of numerous traditional styles and techniques, and serves as a valuable resource in better understanding the craftsmanship, artistic talent, and historical and cultural significance of the quilt as a uniquely American artifact.

The Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilts Collection offers researchers, scholars, and students an innovative approach to the study of some of the most important and admirable characteristics of what is uniquely American. Creative energy, ingenuity, thriftiness, and tradition all are represented within the quilts themselves. Quilters and other artists have the opportunity to study the works of their fore mothers, much as art students visit museums to study the techniques and styles of the artists whose works they admire and appreciate.

Widespread interest in collecting quilts began in the 1920s, with the earliest collectors focusing on the quality of the needlework.  By the 1960s, the focus of collectors was more on the overall aestheic of the quilt, viewing each physical object as a piece of art.

Quilts are collected and appreciated for their unique characteristics, whether it be intricate needlework and appliqué of the 19th century, to quilts made with flour and tobacco sacks out of both pride and necessity during the Depression era, to the bold and breathtaking designs of the quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama.

Quilts tell us a story. Besides being beautiful pieces of art and functional objects in the home, they are also documents. Quilts can provide researchers genealogical information, serve as a memorial, or document the collaborative work of an organization, or represent the collective voice of a movement.

About the Donors:

Collected over several decades and from all over the country, The Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilts Collection represents the collective love of collecting and the strong admiration for this American art form. A significant part of the collection is from Kentucky and Indiana,  near the area where Dr. Hall and Mr. Swem lived for many years, in Louisville, Kentucky.  Quilts from Pennsylvania, New York, part of the deep South, and of course, the state of Alabama, are included in the collection.

Dr. Wade Hall, a native of Union Springs, Alabama, is a graduate of Troy University (B.S.), The University of Alabama (M.A.) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D.) and taught English and served as an administrator at Bellarmine College in Louisville for many years, where he also hosted a weekly interview program on Louisville public television. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. His celebrated work Conecuh People has been adapted for the stage and is performed annually in his hometown.  He is a recipient of the Alabama Library Association’s literary award for “Distinguished Contribution to Alabama’s Literary Heritage,” and in February, 2010, a portion of Dr. Hall's play, One Man's Lincoln, an original drama about Lincoln as told by his law partner, Billy Herndon, was performed  at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Hall is a passionate and gifted collector, is the namesake and donor of the Wade Hall Collection of Southern History and Culture at the Hoole Library. His generous and bountiful gifts to the Hoole Library over the past decades include significant donations books, manuscripts, sound recordings, sheet music, photographs, and artifacts. His gifts have strengthened the Hoole Library's holdings immeasurably, and provide countless scholars and students materials for their research and writing.  Items from the Wade Hall Collection of Southern History and Culture are exhibited regularly in the Hoole Library, as well as in Gorgas Library.  More information on the other components to his collections are accessible on the Hoole Library website

Earl Gregg Swem III is a native of Kentucky and is active in numerous charities and organizations. An avid collector and book dealer, his focus ranges from rare books to modern first editions. In addition to his generous gift of American quilts, he most recently gave a collection of Mayan artifacts to the Hoole Library, as well as a rare rum bottle, from Sloppy Joe's in Havana, the famed watering hole in pre-Castro Cuba.

Reseachers interested in the Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilts Collection should contact archives@ua.edu for an appointment.  A complete guide to the collection with some thumbnails is available for review online.