Display of woven blankets at St. Vincent College extends Overholt family legacy
Before a prominent family in East Huntingdon became known for their whiskey, weaving was a part of their trade.
Henry O. Overholt, born in 1813, was a part of the family who lived at what is now West Overton Village, the historic homestead where Old Overholt rye whiskey was distilled.
Before the family began the distillery in 1810, Overholt would take to a loom and weave coverlets, charging $3 to $7 for one to two days of work.
“He was known for really bold patterns and colors of the time,” said Stephanie Koller, registrar at the site.
Koller has collaborated with the Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery at St. Vincent College to display a number of Overholt's woven blankets to weave a picture of Westmoreland County history.
Lauren Churilla, curator of the gallery, said this is the first time the two sites have collaborated.
“It's really essential for different cultural institutions in the area to work together because we're all working toward the same common goals,” Churilla said. “We want to expose the public to as much of the culture and history of the area as we can, and the best way to do that is through collaboration.”
Churilla and Koller are longtime friends who met while attending the college in Unity. Then both earned master's degrees in public history from Duquesne University.
Five coverlets by Overholt, alongside others from his family and local weavers, will be on display, beginning with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday.
When West Overton Village reopened in 2012, members of the public brought coverlets made by Overholt, which are identifiable by a corner block where often his name, date, client's name and “West'd, Penna.” were usually added, Churilla said.
“It's something that is of interest to people in the area and something people can connect to,” she said.
One coverlet lists Overholt's recipient as Elisabeth Frick, whose son Henry Clay Frick was born and raised at the Overholt homestead before becoming Andrew Carnegie's business partner at H.C. Frick Coke Co.
Overholt was one of the famous Frick's cousins.
The exhibit will tie that connection to industrial history, Churilla said.
“One of Henry Clay Frick's coal mines ... was actually here on campus. There's a picture where you can see the mines and the basilica in the background,” she said.
Coverlets were popular in the mid-1800s because they were practical when used as bed coverings, as well as beautiful.
Some featured geometric patterns. Most of Overholt's creations were “figured and fancy” patterns with flowers and curved flourishes.
The gallery, which has a database of 14,000 weavers and a collection of 300 coverlets, opened in 2004 in the Fred M. Rogers Center on the Unity college campus as a place to preserve the McCarls' donation to St. Vincent.
Weavers like Overholt would sit at a Jacquard loom that used a series of punch cards to weave the colored wool “weft” into the natural cotton “warp.”
He created some of his own patterns, which are on display in the exhibit, Churilla said.
West Overton Village displays Overholt's coverlets in a small gallery, along with maintaining a museum dedicated to the distillery.
“We're hoping that by doing this we can swap visitors and expose visitors to all the different places in Westmoreland County,” Koller said.
Churilla said the gallery allows visitors to delve more into the coverlets' history while West Overton Village helps place them in the time they were produced.
“People come here and see coverlets, but you don't realize you can go right down the street and see where the coverlets were actually woven, so it gives you a bigger piece of the story,” she said.
The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 12.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Changes await students at Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Derry Area
- New bins for recyclables to grace Latrobe area parks