When Catherine Furevick took a class with the Heritage Quilters group last year, she never imagined that her quilt would become a much loved treasure in a museum more than 5,000 kilometres away.
It began when Catherine chose Mona Parsons for her project. The theme was women in wartime.
“I read the book and I had to create a story of this. It was my first time not to have a pattern. I don’t sew well without a pattern. I’m not an artist.”
Her friend, Sandra Baker, smiles and disagrees with her last statement.
The quilt depicts Mona’s story simply and beautifully, celebrating her adventurous spirit and strength which got her through the horrors of Second World War. A native of Nova Scotia, she became a member of the Dutch resistance and the only Canadian female civilian to be imprisoned by the Nazis.
Catherine points the various images on the quilt. The lighthouse signals her birthplace, the musical notes depict her love of music and the sailing ship because she went overseas.
There is a grand piano, tarnished from drinks set down by Nazi SS officers and footprints that wander from home to her destiny.
Born in 1901, Mona eventually moved to the U.S. to pursue her dream of performing, becoming part of the famous Ziegfeld Follies. In the early 1930s Mona’s ambitions changed; she became a nurse. In 1937, she met and married a wealthy Dutch businessman and moved to Holland. When the war began in 1939, Mona and her husband joined the Dutch Resistance, hiding Allied airmen.
Eventually caught, Mona refused to be intimidated by Nazi tactics to convince her to cooperate. She was sentenced to death but her composure impressed them and her sentence was commuted to imprisonment.
Near the end of the war, as Allied planes were dropping bombs, the guards panicked and opened the gates. Many women ran for freedom but only two made it: Mona and a friend. Using her acting skills, Mona evaded recapture. After harrowing adventures, she walked back to Holland where she happened to meet Canadian soldiers. She was 87 pounds and her feet were infected.
“She spent four years in (prison) camps,” says Catherine. “I made little feet because she made the journey and she had blisters.”
Eventually Mona was reunited with her husband and back in their home.
“While they were interred, German soldiers were living in their house and used her piano to put their drinks on,” says Sandra. “When she sold it, she said they were not allowed to refinish it as a memorial to its history.”
Her husband was never well after his ordeal in a prison camp and when he died, Mona was in for more tribulations. A quarter of his estate went to his mistress and the rest went to a young man who claimed to be his illegitimate son. She was left penniless.
In 1957 she returned to Canada. She suffered from nightmares for the rest of her life and died of pneumonia in December, 1976.
Catherine displayed her quilt at R.J. Haney Heritage Village last spring along with the other heritage quilts but after that, she wasn’t sure what to do with it.
“I wanted to do something with it and Harry (Sandra’s husband) inspired me to send it to the museum.”
Harry, a native of Nova Scotia, thought of the Wolfville museum and sent Catherine the information. The Randall House Museum has a room dedicated to Mona Parsons and the curator was very happy to have it.
When Sandra and Harry went on vacation back east, they stopped by the museum.
“We made a point of going to Wolfville,” says Sandra. “The quilt is garnering much attention. I was talking to the curator; she spent a lot of time with us. She said the quilt went to Halifax and travelled the province and there was so much interest in it and people were asking all kinds of questions.”
Catherine smiles, happy that people are enjoying the quilt. This project had been challenging and, ultimately, very rewarding because she feels a kinship with Mona Parsons.
“She kind of seems like my friend,” she says.