In the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned the feature I was writing on Museum L/A’s latest exhibition “Covering the Nation: The Art of the Bates Bedspread.” I interviewed the guest curator and the museum’s executive director; both of them provided me with a lot of information and a lot to think about as I was preparing my draft (which DID get to the editor at the promised day and time…phew!)
Although the exhibit focuses on only one of the products Bates Manufacturing created, the guest curator explained that the company actually produced “everything to do with beds” and bedrooms.
Sheets, mattress covers, blankets. Oh, and curtains and tablecloths and napkins. Innovators of the Jacquard looming process, Bates “did everything from the plainest…sheeting to the complex. Like the matelassé bedspreads” guest curator Jacqueline Field told me.
Thinking about what a giant industrial powerhouse the mill had been, I interviewed my mother, hoping she would share a recollection of adding a bedspread to her wedding trousseau or buying a damask tablecloth at the local “company store” as a bridal shower gift for a friend.
She did not have such a recollection.
I was surprised, because I remembered the white summer Bates coverlet on my parents’ bed growing up. It was cut down into a tablecloth at some point and then into pillow shams. True to what Field had told me, no one ever threw out textiles back in “those days.”
I still have the pillow shams.
What my mother did tell me was it had been my Aunt Anna (Tante Anna) who had influenced her own decorating tastes when she (Helen) had been a fledgling housewife. Then she said “Anna worked in the office at Bates before she got married. I think that’s why she liked their products so much.”
That was some new information. I picked up that thread and zipped out an e-mail to two of my cousins, asking them if they remembered their mother talking about her job at Bates. Oddly enough, only one of my cousins affirmed that their mother had worked there while the other cousin refuted it. Both reminded me, however ironically, that they had grown up on “Bates Street” in Lisbon Falls.
So what was the truth? Had Tante Anna worked in the office of Bates Manufacturing prior to her marriage or had she not?
Both cousins did confirm “she certainly loved those Bates bedspreads.” One cousin said “I think she had one for every bed in the house.”
I suppose I could interview Uncle Bob and maybe Aunt Rita, but as it turned out, I did not use that particular “angle” for my story. I think I will do more research about Bates Manufacturing and their amazing output of beautiful and useful things. They made practical cotton goods for every day as well as lovely things for high days and holidays.
This is not a Bates tablecloth.
Another stylish aunt left it behind when she died and it ended up with me. Although blue is not the best match for my dining area, I love the order of the checks. The dining table looks naked when it wears another cloth.
Bates Manufacturing promoted many of their higher-end bedspreads and woven goods with the slogan “loomed to be heirloomed” and it’s proven to be true by the vast number of vintage spreads that still exist. Sadly, weaving through the threads of time and finding the truth in the midst of foggy memories is a little more difficult than finding a pristine “George Washington” on Ebay.