Kentucky Historical Society
Rescued Churchill Weavers Collection Finds Home at Kentucky Historical Society
Frankfort, KY -- The Kentucky Historical Society today announced its acquisition of the Churchill Weavers Collection from Lila Bellando, who managed Churchill Weavers for Crown Crafts and owned the business with her husband, Richard Bellando, from 1973 to 1996. (See historic overview and timeline attached.)
The purchase agreement was completed on May 8, 2007. The collection was moved from the Churchill Weavers site in Berea to the Kentucky Historical Society headquarters in Frankfort on May 22 and 23.
“We are thrilled to have a part in saving another Kentucky icon,” notes Kentucky Historical Society executive director Kent Whitworth. “We are especially indebted to two heroines who made the acquisition a reality-- Mrs. Bellando, who chose the Society as the right place to cherish this collection for posterity, and Joan Cralle Day of Louisville, who provided a significant gift through the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation to make the acquisition possible and to keep the collection in Kentucky.”
The large collection includes more than 300,000 fabric samples and finished pieces, as well as a loom, design records, photographs, and other documents. The collection is the historic record of a signature Kentucky business established in 1922 by D. Carroll and Eleanor Churchill in Berea, Kentucky. Churchill Weavers hand-wove baby blankets, throws, clothing, commissioned art pieces, and other specialty items which were recognized as “setting the standard for luxury hand-woven, award winning fabric designs with flawless attention to detail.”
Churchill Weavers products were woven into the fabric of 20th century American social history. In the 1940s, Churchill Weavers had retail shops in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago and a continuing presence in major department stores nationwide. Among the specialty items produced were a special throw for Greyhound bus cruisers, the linings for NASA’s first space suits, and a fiber art piece designed and commissioned by Gerhardt Knodel that was hanging in the entrance of the Alfred P. Murrow building in Oklahoma City when it was destroyed in the 1995 bombing.
“I think the Churchill Weavers collection will be a wonderful addition to the Kentucky Historical Society collections,” says Diane Fagan Affleck, director of interpretation at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. “As one of the early and one of the best 20th-century handweaving businesses that grew out of the revival movement, particularly in the South, Churchill Weavers was especially important. They were innovators and trend setters in their niche, and they always made high-quality textiles.”
In April 2007, Crown Crafts (which purchased Churchill Weavers from the Bellandos in 1996) announced that it sold the Churchill Weavers name, together with Churchill Weavers' other intellectual property, domain name and web site, yarn inventory, looms, and other weaving, sewing and laundry equipment, to Wilford Morris, owner of Walcot Weavers based in Lafayette, Indiana. At the time of that sale, Mrs. Bellando purchased Churchill Weavers' “archives and certain antiquities.”
In an April 10, 2007, article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bellando said she had looked for a museum or nonprofit organization to buy the archive from Crown Crafts, but when time grew short, she purchased it herself to be sure the collection would be preserved. "I had to do it," she said. "I couldn't let it get away."
Enter George Ward, secretary of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, who heard about Lila Bellando’s search for a home for the Churchill Weavers Collection. He immediately thought of the Kentucky Historical Society, an agency of the Commerce Cabinet. “Imagining this collection leaving the Commonwealth was almost like thinking of Kentucky without the Derby,” he recalls. He immediately put the Kentucky Historical Society in touch with Lila Bellando and encouraged the completion of the agreement.
Mrs. Bellando said of the archive she acquired and later sold to the Kentucky Historical Society, "I feel comforted that it is not going away. It is a phenomenal collection and for those interested in studying textile patterns and woven designs, as well as history, it truly is an amazing resource! I wanted it to go to a place where there was adequate space for proper storage and where the integrity and history of the company would be preserved, honored, and shared. The Kentucky Historical Society is the perfect place. We are all very pleased."
The Kentucky Historical Society plans to process, document, and preserve the collection, making it accessible to the public and researchers through exhibitions, programs, library services, and online resources.
Whitworth noted that the acquisition would have been difficult if not impossible without the construction of the Kentucky Historical Society’s Frankfort headquarters, the 167,000- square-foot Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in 1999.
“This facility has the storage, processing technology, and qualified staff to manage a collection of this size,” he notes. “Not many state historical societies could manage this ambitious project, but because of the vision of the leaders of our Commonwealth, we can.”
Whitworth also credits the generosity of Mrs. Day, whose gift through the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation was instrumental in keeping the collection in Kentucky. “When she learned of this opportunity, she didn’t hesitate. Because of her vision, we were able to have the money at the ready that out-of-state organizations simply couldn’t match. It made all the difference.”
An agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, the Kentucky Historical Society, since 1836, has provided connections to the past, perspective on the present, and inspiration for the future. KHS operates the Old State Capitol, the Kentucky Military History Museum, and its headquarters, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. Since 1999, the thirty-million-dollar Center has welcomed more than one million visitors. For more information about the Kentucky Historical Society and its programs, visit the Web site.