Four men and a goat — Herbs, quilts and rugs revealed

Creativity of all sorts was celebrated last week at the Wilton Historical Society as a crowd gathered to hear three talks: on herbs, quilting and rug hooking. Refreshments — mineral water, wine, cheese platters and pastry — sustained visitors for the afternoon’s program.
The warm, sunny day — perfect conditions for the colonial-era herb garden at the society’s museum complex on Danbury Road — was the backdrop Thursday, July 16, as Nancy Moore of Moorefield Herb Farm in Trumbull led a tour. Her talk was followed by quilter Denyse Schmidt and rug hooker June Myles, who spoke on their exhibitions on display in the galleries.

Herb garden

The colonial herb garden is filled with plants rich in folklore and with a myriad of uses. It wasn’t always this way.
“Three years ago this garden was so overgrown,” Leslie Nolan, the society’s executive director, said, there was no evidence of the stonework hidden by all the weeds. The garden’s restoration was led by Jacki Algon, a member of the Wilton Garden Club and Wilton Conservation Commission, and a grant last year paid for signs identifying each plant.
Moore led the crowd through the garden, pointing out plants of interest such as lovage. “If you rub the leaves, it smells like celery,” she said, adding the stems can be used in Bloody Marys. It’s also very hardy — she’s had hers for 40 years — and versatile. It can also be used in soups and stews.
Tansy, with its yellow button flower, is a well-known antidote to ants. Laying the leaves on ant tracks, or lining a plate or bowl, will repel them.
English lavender, she said, is an excellent moth repellent. She advised those who fancy it, “don’t cut it back in the fall. You can cut it in the spring when green appears at the base.” It needs the nutrition it gets from the stalks to survive the winter.
Moore had a warning about attempting to infuse olive oil with herbs.
“Olive oil is an anaerobic liquid, which means it has no air,” she said. Herbs in the garden can harbor botulism. When placed in an anaerobic liquid, the botulism can grow and cause a real problem, she said.
“Raw garlic in olive oil is an absolute no-no,” she added. Instead, the garlic should be roasted before submerging it, and then the oil should be kept in the refrigerator for no more than a week.
Plain olive oil has a shelf live of six months, she said, adding rancid oil cannot always be detected by taste.
Those seeking to use herbal remedies would do well to go to a health food store, she said, instead of the garden, to get the proper dosage and information. There can be drug interactions that could be serious.

Modern quilting

The society’s main gallery has been home since March to the exhibition Denyse Schmidt — Historic Inspirations, New Quilts.
Always interested in art, Schmidt said she studied graphic arts in high school, and that graphic quality is evident in her work.
Her early works were purchased by architects and designers, and those sales gave her the opportunity to explore traditional techniques executed with a minimalist palette.
Most of her quilts are machine sewn locally, but some are hand-quilted by a community of Amish women in Minnesota.
Quilting patterns, Schmidt said, were often named after household implements or the local environment, such as cartwheel or log cabin.
“They relate to the agrarian lifestyle,” she said. As patterns were published for home sewers, the names were often changed.
Schmidt is fond of working with stripes, and so a number of her quilts are made with ticking material. Many of the pieces are of vintage fabric she finds at tag sales and flea markets such as Minks to Sinks.
“I like disturbing the sense — is it new, is it old?” she said. She draws on old designs but is influenced by modern fashion and music.
Schmidt has written two books — Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration and Quilts: 30 Colorful Quilt and Pathwork Projects — which are for sale at the society’s gift shop.

Four men and a goat

June Myles of Redding finds inspiration for her hooked rugs everywhere. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s nature, and sometimes it’s the obituary pages.
Recently the Financial Times ran a 1966 photo of four men sitting on a bench in Sao Paolo and it got her thinking about the meaning of a bench.
For her exhibition at the historical society, One Loop at A Time, she was offered the use of an antique bench that once stood in the Wilton train station. On it she placed five of her hooked pillows.
“That’s why we have four men and a goat waiting for the train,” she said with a laugh.
Many of Myles’ works are of men, but she didn’t set out to do just men intentionally. Some of her early pieces were inspired by a book on Persian miniatures, in which there was a picture of a king’s servants.
She thought it would “make a neat rug,” but instead of doing the entire picture, she chose to do individual characters.
Another man was based on an obituary photo. As she read the obituary, she found he was only 51 when he died and he was survived by his wife, his two sons, and “his pet turtle he’d had since he was 14.”
“My heart went out to his turtle,” she said, and a green turtle is part of the hooked portrait.
“Most of these men are real, but I don’t know any of them,” she said of the banker, the chicken farmer, and her “blue man.”
Animals are another favorite subject, and Myles talked about her latest effort, an armadillo. She learned the armadillo’s scales are called scutes, and so she titled the life-sized piece Scute ALou. The background is colored rectangles, meant to evoke the scutes.
Of an anteater, she said, “I like to hook very odd animals.” This one, she explained, came from a black and white sketch by Amazonian Indians to which she added a small army of ants.