The Wilkinson Art Quilt
 
The Wilkinson Sisters, Ligonier, Indiana

Excerpts from their undated catalog:

  "In their chosen profession, the Wilkinson Sisters have a distinction that ranks them with the masters in other fields of art.  They create their beautiful designs from their wealth of poetic imagination, and, aided by other needleworkers of extraordinary skill, embody their ideas in dainty creations that are irresistibly lovely, yet at the same time so well made that they give pleasure and satisfaction for years.
  "The striking originality of Wilkinson Art Quilts is maintained at the maximum because the Wilkinson Sisters personally design each quilt and supervise the making.  No effort is made to produce quilts in large numbers, and this has resulted in their product having an exclusiveness fully appreciated by all discriminating lovers of out-of-the-ordinary bedding.  Personal service, splendid workmanship, and use of finest materials re the foundations upon which the Wilkinson prestige rests."
How Wilkinson Quilts Are Made
  "Wilkinson Art Quilts are made entirely by hand, in surroundings of home-like happiness, where the skilled needleworkers laugh and chat pleasantly as their deft fingers work out the delicate tracery of design in the beautiful, soft materials. . . .  All the designing is done by the Wilkinsons themselves.  The designs, which are art of a high character, are hand-drawn on the fabric." 
(page 11)
  "The Wilkinson designs are copyrighted, and the owner of one of these wonder-quilts may have added satisfaction in the knowledge that she possesses something exclusive in conception and superior in workmanship."  (page 3)

Sisters Ona and Rosalie Wilkinson were daughters of Indiana natives, Henry and Mary Margaret (Grisamer) Wilkinson.  Iona, better known as Ona, was born April 1876 in Elkhart County where her parents had married the previous year.  Sixteen years later, Rosalie was born November 13, 1892, after her parents had moved to Ligonier in Noble County, Indiana.

The earliest mention located for their quilt factory in available Indiana newspapers appeared in the "Ligonier News" column of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 26, 1913, with this intriguing problem then facing the business:  In regard to the Wilkinson Quilt factory, 100 new orders were received yesterday, and the manufacturer reported to the association committee today that no room was available in the present building to complete these orders.  It was urged that the builder having in charge the making of an estimate for the warehouse to be built by the Ligonier Improvement association report the same to the regular committee.  The local industry has intimated that it has had offers of new quarters in adjacent cities.  (NewspaperArchive.com) 

The Fort Wayne newspapers continued to chronicle events at the factory and Ona's travels.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne News, October 6, 1914:  The Wilkerson [sic]* quilt factory has moved from their old home across from the high school building into the large brick building formerly called the Straus woolen mills.
* I've never discovered why Wilkinson is so often stated as Wilkerson.  Wilkinson is one of my own family surnames and I've found this misspelling of Wilkinson as early as the mid-19th century.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne News, October 20, 1914:  Miss Bessie Billman is suffering internal injuries received from a fall while on duty at the Wilkerson [sic] Quilt factory.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne News, November 20, 1914:  The Wilkerson [sic] quilt factory was broken into last night at about supper time by some one well acquainted with the factory.  The thief got away with $16 in money and some valuable silks.  No clew [sic] has as yet been obtained by the local authorities.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne News, March 6, 1915:  A false alarm was turned in from the Wilkinson Quilt factory in the old Straus building on Martin street last evening.

Fort Wayne News, November 22, 1915:  Miss Ona Wilkinson left Sunday morning on a week's business trip to St. Louis.  She will have a quilt display in one of the largest stores in that city.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 31, 1916:  Miss Ona Wilkinson, who has been traveling in the east and south in the interest of the quilt factory, has arrived home.

Rosalie married Harry A. Dickinson in Noble County, November 24, 1917, at the Methodist parsonage.  Their daughter was born November 25, 1920, and a son was born October 27, 1927.  (Their names are purposely omitted.)

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, May 4, 1919:  Miss Ona Wilkinson and sister, Mrs. H. Dickinson, were in Chicago this week.

"Ligonier News," Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, August 19, 1922:  Jacob Lindsey, of Albion, entertained the employes [sic] of the Wilkinson Quilt factory with a fish dinner at Webster lake, Tuesday.  (all articles and ads retrieved from NewspaperArchive.com)

Ona married Ray Charles Smalley, January 9, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois.  She died in October 1949.  Rosalie Dickinson, "a lifetime resident of Ligonier," died in December 1976; "she and her sister had owned and operated the Wilkinson Quilt Factory 1920-45."  Their obituaries are transcribed at http://gen.nobleco.lib.in.us/Obituaries/Sk.htm and http://gen.nobleco.lib.in.us/Obituaries/Di.htm.  Also see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=42062358 and http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=42059174.

© Wilene Smith, September 19, 2010 

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