Spectacular Hawaiian Quilts Uncovered

Henry Hite and an American FlagQuilt from about 1900

Every three years or so the descendants of E. O. Wattis, one of Utah’s founding industrialists who built Ogden, hold a reunion.

This year they’re holding one in Ogden. Henry Hite,  Wattis’ great grandson, is visiting Ogden from his home in Aspen to set up for the reunion next month and took the opportunity to put on a display of his amazing quilts from Hawaii.

Henry and his wife, Angela, have been collecting quilts for years. He said he’s particularly fond  of his Hawaiian quilts because of their beauty and rarity.

Most folks don’t think of “Hawaii” and “quilt” in the same breath because it’s so warm there, but he said quilters in Hawaii quickly developed their own themes and techniques.

His quilts date from 1890 to about 1992. They’re made by appliquing one color on top of another, the top color featuring a design with Hawaiian themes, such as palm trees, bread fruit or pineapples, but there are also flag themes that feature both the Hawaiian flag and American flags.

The quilters used a technique called “echo quilting,” he said, in which the lines of tiny quilting stitches parallel the designs, “and that’s what makes then uniquely Hawaiian.”

Hawaiian flag quilt

Hite said he isn’t trying to find more quilts for his collection at this point because, frankly, it’s a chore to store and preserve the things. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” he said. Displaying them takes great care to prevent damage from sunlight or even just the weight of being hung. Even a quilt that is carefully stored away can undergo changes, he said.

The show opened Wednesday and will be open through June 7 in Gallery 51. Admission is free.