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News Release
OHS collections staff assess the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt after conservation in December 2021. Oregon Historical Society photograph.
OHS collections staff assess the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt after conservation in December 2021. Oregon Historical Society photograph.
Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt and First U.S. Flag Flown in Portland on View July 4th Weekend at the Oregon Historical Society (Photo) - 06/29/22

Portland, OR — On special exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) for this weekend only are two unique objects from OHS’s museum collection. From July 1 through July 5, visitors will have the rare opportunity to view the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt and what is believed to be the first U.S. flag raised in Portland after Oregon became a state.

The Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt was last on view at OHS in October 2020, in a special display developed in partnership with Portland Textile Month. Each square of the quilt, crafted from 1974 to 1976 in honor of the American Bicentennial, honors a Black individual or moment in history. Fifteen Black women from Portland sewed the quilt, who later donated it to OHS and entrusted it to the Society’s care. Less than a week after it had been put on public view, on October 11, 2020, vandals shattered windows in OHS’s pavilion and stole the quilt from its display. Police found it and returned it the next morning, stained and soaking wet from the rain. 

OHS collections staff immediately laid out the drenched textile on top of clean, cotton, undyed towels on a flat surface to stabilize this important piece of Oregon history. While the quilt fortunately had not suffered major structural damage (rips, areas of fabric loss, etc.), there was significant, red-colored staining either due to the red fabric bleeding from moisture or from contact from the red paint protestors had used. Once the quilt was dry and stabilized, collections staff sent it to Textile Conservation Workshop (TCW) to begin conservation of the quilt to work to restore it to its original condition. The process was time-consuming and costly and required the quilt to be disassembled — each quilt block removed from the backing, batting, and binding. TCW only used conservation-quality products and materials and took the time to sew along the original stitch lines with all the quilt blocks in their original locations, and the newly restored quilt that visitors will see this weekend is beautiful.

OHS is also thrilled to exhibit for the first time in nearly a decade what is believed to be the very first American flag raised in Portland after Oregon became a state. Ann Elizabeth Bills, who sewed the flag, and her husband, Cincinnati Bills, traveled from Indiana to Oregon in 1853. Mr. Bills started Portland’s first hauling business, which became the Oregon Transfer Company. In 1861, Mrs. Bills was asked to sew an American flag to celebrate Independence Day. The flag, which was last displayed at OHS in 2013, has been well-preserved by museum collections staff since it was first flown on 4th Avenue in Portland on July 4, 1861.  

For those unable to visit the museum in person, the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt (OHS Museum, 77-57.1) and the Bills flag (OHS Museum, 61-133) are available to view on OHS’s Museum Collection Portal (museumcollection.ohs.org) — a public, online database highlighting the incredible objects in the museum’s care. OHS’s museum preserves over 75,000 objects that document the history of the region, which includes clothing and textiles, Native American belongings, artworks, vehicles, equipment, and everyday items. When the Portal launched in January 2022, in provided access to the records for over 10,000 of these objects, with new records being added regularly. 

The Oregon Historical Society’s museum hours this weekend are 10am to 5pm Friday and Saturday, 12pm to 5pm Sunday, and 10am to 5pm Tuesday (closed Monday in observance of the July 4 holiday). Admission to view these objects is free, while regular museum admission applies to visit OHS’s other current exhibitions.

About the Oregon Historical Society

For more than a century, the Oregon Historical Society has served as the state’s collective memory, preserving a vast collection of artifacts, photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, films, and oral histories. Our research library, museum, digital platforms & website (www.ohs.org), educational programming, and historical journal make Oregon’s history open and accessible to all. We exist because history is powerful, and because a history as deep and rich as Oregon’s cannot be contained within a single story or point of view. 

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