Press-Republican

October 16, 2013

Peru family donates quilt to county

JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The creative artwork of a member of one of Peru’s long-standing families is now on display at the Clinton County Museum.

Ralph Arthur, whose family first established a homestead in Peru in the late 1770s, recently donated a quilt that his wife, Betty Lou, had created years ago.

“I’ve enjoyed it every day I’ve had it at home; now I want people to enjoy it,” Arthur said of the quilt, which is a representation of all 50 states in the Union, including the year they earned their statehood and the state bird and flower for each.

“It took her 10 years to do,” Ralph said of Betty Lou’s unending efforts to complete her masterpiece. “She’d sit down in the evening every day after work and work on it.”

Betty Lou, who lost a courageous battle against brain cancer in 2008, came up with the idea in the 1980s after seeing a resident of Apple Valley Senior Housing working on a similar project, Ralph recalled.

The project soon became a family effort as Ralph helped research information on the state birds and flowers across the country, including the ever-elusive nini goose, the state bird of Hawaii.

“It was a labor of love,” Ralph said as he pointed to distinguishing features of the quilt, which hangs in the basement of the County Museum as part of the temporary collection of Peru history on display through the end of the year.

In all, Betty Lou spent more than 100 hours on the project. She recorded time spent on the quilt each day, and that record is part of a logbook that is also available for people to see at the museum.

She began the work, which features crewel embroidery, in the summer of 1983 and finished on April 1, 1996.

Embroidery was a tool Betty Lou used to express her emotions, Ralph said as he shared one of his most endearing possessions, a small embroidered cloth with the words, “A husband is the only labor-saving device you can cuddle,” above the image of a carpenter and a tiny puppy at his feet.

It was a Christmas present she had once given him, he explained.

When Betty Lou finished the United States quilt, the Arthurs were diligent in protecting it. When not enjoying its visual display, they would cover the quilt in sheets and place it in a cedar cabinet.

The Clinton County Historical Association will follow a similar procedure when the Peru display ends, ensuring that the Arthurs’ contribution to the North County is protected indefinitely.

“She was all for it being in a museum,” Ralph said of how his wife would feel about his decision to donate the quilt. “She would be very proud.”

One of 10 children, Ralph grew up on a farm in Peru. He met Betty Lou Tyrell shortly after he had graduated from high school in 1949 when they were both attending a church meeting.

“I made my decision on the way home (from the meeting) that Betty Lou was going to be the woman I married,” he recalled with a smile.

Life got in the way, however, and Betty Lou became engaged to another man, and Ralph eventually joined the military and was stationed in Alaska during the Korean War.

One night in Alaska, he received a 23-page letter from Betty Lou, detailing to him the changes in her life that had ended her engagement. They wrote each other every day from that point on, and when Ralph returned home, Betty Lou was the first person he wanted to see.

“When I saw her coming down the stairs (on that first day of their reunion), I thought, ‘My God, isn’t she beautiful.’”

They spent their first date at the North Country Club in Keeseville, and they married two years later on June 15, 1957.

It was the proverbial “match made in heaven” over the next half century, and it’s a love that continues with such symbolic measures as the quilt donation.

Email Jeff Meyers:jmeyers@pressrepublican.com