Nebraska Stories | The Quilts of Ken Burns and More


VOICEOVER: Coming
up on Nebraska Stories, America’s storyteller
shares his quilts. A look back at the life
of Gen. John J. Pershing Nebraska’s largest garage sale. And a rising star in Hollywood. (upbeat rock music) (Truck’s reverse signal beeps) (truck doors opening) NARRATOR: The shipment
arriving today at the International Quilt
Study Center and Museum began its long
journey one year ago in a small New England town,
at a place called Quilt Alley. (spritely music) KEN BURNS: Okay, so this,
just put on sunglasses. This is like being at the
first atomic explosion. Where did these come from? Was this the 1960’s. You know, was this a
psychedelic poster or something. No, this is the 1830’s,
an Amish community. Amazing to me, amazing. NARRATOR: In the
lower level of his barn, filmmaker Ken Burns guides two
Quilt Museum staff members, Executive Director Leslie Levy
and Curator Carolyn Ducey, through his private collection. Burns has agreed to
publicly exhibit his quilts for the first time. KEN: I have never displayed
my quilt any other place but in a place where I live. So, it’s been, there’s a few
things that I do in my life that are just for me. NARRATOR: As the tour
weaves through the many rooms. KEN: Here’s another
spectacular applique. NARRATOR: A story of Ken
Burns, the collector, unfolds. CAROLYN DUCEY:
We kinda wanted to get a feel
for why he was collecting. What did quilts mean to him? Here’s this man
who’s a historian that could be
collecting anything, and he’s recognized
quilts and the … The visceral appeal of them. KEN: This might eat you. LESLIE: This is great. KEN: How great is this? The precision and the
beauty of the applique. This is red, white, and
blue, that happened to be colors similar to our flag,
but the blue is not the blue. And I’m a blue guy, who is
very blue about the fact that this isn’t the right blue. (woman laughs) Again, they haven’t quite
figured out the blue. And they’re getting closer
to the correct blue. And this to me, this, I
mean there’s something in me that goes … and then
there’s something incredibly poignant and beautiful
that the flag exists in a sea of crosses. CAROLYN: Literally I was
scrambling notes thinking, “He can speak about quilts
in the most elegant way “and talk about them in
a way that they tie into “his love of history,
his love of America, “his love of just the
ordinary people and “what they created and
what they went through.” You really started to
see how all those quilts reflected those things
that you see in his love of documenting American history. KEN: This is more of
a historical quilt. This is the NRA, meaning the National
Recovery Administration. And its symbol was
the blue eagle. LESLIE:
It’s fabulous, wow. KEN: It’s a beautiful,
beautiful, beautiful quilt. LESLIE LEVY: His quilts are
something that he truly loves and truly lives with. KEN: Okay speaking
of hidden away … (opening drawer) Quilts. More quilts. Not room, quilts. Hidden.
CAROLYN: Love it. KEN: They shouldn’t
be hidden, right? CAROLYN: It was fun to see
how much he loves them and how he wants to have them
out and be surrounded by them. And then to hear
him say, “Oh …” And I do this; anybody who
loves quilts and collects, It’s like, “Oh, this
is my favorite.” “Oh, this is my favorite.” “I can’t decide which
is my favorite.” KEN: Now this is one of
my favorite quilts. It’s one of the earliest
appliques I’ve ever bought. It just yells at me. This is one of my
favorites as well. I guess I would have to say,
if I had to name a favorite and I can’t do that, it would
be this quilt because … CAROLYN: I was not aware that
Ken Burns was a quilt collector. And we discovered that because
of our executive director, Leslie Levy’s former position
at the Cather Foundation where she had gotten to know Ken as one of their board members. And he was excited to hear that
she was moving to the museum and mentioned, “Hey,
yeah, I collect quilts. “And I have for a
number of years.” And she said, “I’m tucking
that away for later, Ken.” LESLIE: He knew the museum
and had respect for the organization
and the program. We’re renowned for our
exhibitions and our collection. So, I think too it
was a matter that the timing was
probably just right. I suspect that Ken is just
at that time in his life when he is willing to share. Oh, look at that log cabin. KEN: The common sharing
of our heritage becomes a way in which
you can continue to have a civil discourse. And that’s really
really important to me. And quilts and films
are ways to do that. And that’s been my
mission in life, so I’m very excited
by the possibility of sharing these and
reminding people that somebody from a tiny
little state in the upper right hand corner
of their country, rather than this gigantic
state in the middle of our country, share
a lot in common. CAROLYN: I have to say what
I’m drawn to most in the collection are the
red, white, and blue quilts. And I think that’s
because I think of Ken as such an American storyteller. NARRATOR: It’s
now eight months later and the museum staff is
reviewing photographs of Ken Burns’ quilts. From these photos, they
will select the ones to display in the exhibit. CAROLYN:
And this piece, oh my god. This is such a rare piece. To have one of these is
just an amazing thing. LESLIE: Temperance.
CAROLYN: Temperance, definitely. Love this. LESLIE: I like this.
CAROLYN:
That really would work well with a lot of our
red, white, and blue. NARRATOR: And the
exhibit team meets to discuss design concepts. MAN: This is just a
mock up of a concept of spanning the corner
of the gallery here. And then we could
suspend these quilts, and they could actually
overlap each other. NARRATOR: Three months
before the exhibit opens, the quilts are packed and
shipped to the museum. On arrival, they’re placed
in isolation for two weeks. While in isolation,
each quilt is examined to note any condition issues. WOMAN: Here’s a little
staining right here. NARRATOR: Finally,
the moment the staff has most looked
forward to has arrived. Object review. It’s here decisions are made
on how to exhibit each quilt. CAROLYN: It’s incredibly
damaged. Can’t hang, but I’d
sure rather see it flat. And it’s really an
extremely important quilt because you just don’t
see temperance quilts. NARRATOR: They
consider size, color, design, and texture. And also, how the quilts
are grouped for the exhibit. In total,
they review 33 quilts. KEN: I spent my entire
professional life asking the essentially simple
question: Who are we? Who are those strange
and complicated people who like to call
themselves Americans. And all of my films
are attempting not so much to
answer that question, but to deepen it. So as an avocation, as a hobby, I have pursued collecting
what I think is the cleanest, simplest, and most
authentic expression of who we are as a people. (whirring) NARRATOR: Two
weeks before the open, the staff begins
building the exhibit. (energetic string music
and construction noise) MAN: Right. The first quilt going up. (energetic string music
and construction noise) MAN: Okay, first quilt. (applause) (energetic string music
and construction noise) MAN: Man, that looks great. (energetic string music) NARRATOR: By opening
day, the museum’s exhibit, Uncovered: The Ken
Burns Collection, has already attracted
national attention. (patriotic march music) VISITOR:
It says, “Sea of Crosses.” That’s … That’s powerful. I can easily see why he
was attracted to that. VIEWER: Interesting
color and texture. WOMAN: I just really
love those colors. I even see why he picks
’em from the heart. LADY: The color, oh my goodness. NARRATOR: Oddly
enough, the man known as America’s storyteller,
who gets into the weeds and doesn’t shy away
from complexity in his
documentaries, doesn’t need to know the
same about his quilts. KEN BURNS: It’s not so much
that I am interested in investing myself
with every bit of minutia about this quilt. More often than not,
the way I’ve gotten it is by stopping along the
roadside at an antiques place and finding buried underneath
a pile of other things some beautiful gem,
and it’s very difficult to track down the precise
provenance of that quilt. So what you’re left
with is the mystery as well as the beauty of it. And that to me is
what it’s about. LESLIE: There’s something
incredibly human and incredibly
authentic about that. And it means that Ken
Burns is just like us. And isn’t that nice. I think, quite frankly,
from my perspective and as the director
of this museum, that’s one of the things
that I love and respect, is that he would say that. That it’s okay, I don’t
need to know the specifics to love it. I just love it for what
it is on the face of it. I just love it. (theme music) (piano music) NARRATOR: A century ago,
World War I raged in Europe. Historians say that war made
the US a global super power. General John J.
Pershing, a man with strong Nebraska ties,
commanded the US troops to help to end the
bloody fighting. (singing) November 11th, 1918,
America and the world celebrated an end
to World War I. NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: 3,000
miles from home, an American army is
fighting for you. NARRATOR: Four years
of fighting claimed millions of lives
before US troops, lead by General John J.
Pershing, arrived in France. (early 1900s music) They were called the American
Expeditionary Forces and joined the French
and British to turn the battle tide against
the German military. In 18 months General
Pershing helped to transform 220,000 US troops into a fighting
force of 4 million. JIM LACY: He should be thought
of as a quintessential American man, right
place, right time. NARRATOR: General
Pershing became the only acting six star
general in US history. Today though his
name is recognized by few people,
even in Nebraska, where an important part of
Pershing’s life unfolded. (banjo music) NARRATOR: In 1891 the
31 year old Pershing thought seriously about
leaving the Army after four years
in the Sixth Calvary. He had commanded frontier
outposts in the Indian War, and there seemed to
be few promotional opportunities left for
First Lieutenant Pershing. RICHARD FAULKNER:
So after times, chasing
Native Americans in Arizona and other places, he does
get a chance to take a break. NARRATOR: Pershing’s
break was a transfer to the University of Nebraska. TIM McNEESE: Here in Lincoln he
has a sense of having arrived. NARRATOR: Pershing
taught military science at the University of Nebraska, and began work on a law degree. Most importantly
Pershing took charge of the schools failing
military training program. And it’s 100 cadets. McNEESE: Underrated,
secondhand, nobody gave two hoots about the program. NARRATOR: Under
Pershing’s command, McNeese says, things
quickly changed. Pershing instilled
something in his cadets that they hadn’t had
before, it was discipline. McNEESE: Better button up that
coat, why are your shoes not polished, and
all these farm boys were kinda, wait, wait,
wait, who’s this guy? And what? NARRATOR: Within
a year 350 students joined Pershing’s
UNL cadet core, and by 1892 Pershing’s cadets
were ready to be tested in a national military
drill competition. UNL’s elite cadet
squad competed in Omaha against veteran teams
from across the country. When it was announced
that Pershing’s UNL cadets had
won their division, hundreds of UNL
students and faculty climbed over the
fence and charged the parade field to celebrate. And they were lead by UNL
chancellor James Canfield. McNEESE: Well, even the
chancellor of the University, yeah, Chancellor Canfield
who is not a small man, is climbing over this
eight foot tall fence. NARRATOR: In 1895, Pershing’s time at UNL came to an end. In honor of their recently
departed lieutenant, UNL’s elite drill team renamed
itself, Pershing’s Rifles. Today units like them
across the country are known as the National
Society of Pershing Rifles. In the decades that
followed, Pershing commanded US troops
in the Spanish American War. In the Philippines
he was promoted to the rank of
one star General. Now married with a
wife and four children, Pershing’s life seemed complete until tragedy struck in 1915. Pershing’s wife Frankie,
and their three young daughters died in a
San Francisco fire. The fires only
survivor was Pershing’s five year old son Warren. Pershing privately poured
his crushing sorrow into the command
of 10,000 US troops sent to hunt Mexican
revolutionary General Francisco Pancho Villa. Pershing’s son Warren,
now the most important person in the General’s
life, lived in Lincoln Nebraska with
Pershing’s two sisters. SANDY PERSHING: October 31,
1916, my dear little boy. NARRATOR:
Recently Pershing’s granddaughter-in-law
read a 1916 letter the General wrote from
Mexico to his son in Lincoln. SANDY PERSHING:
This small red flag with
one white star in the center is the flag that has
been in front of your poppa’s tent for several months. As I now must have
two stars in my flag, I am sending you this one
to keep as a souvenir. With it goes all
the love of my soul. May God keep you and help you
to be a good and great man. NARRATOR: A year
later, Pershing would command American
troops in World War I. NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Only the
hardest blows can win against the enemy
we are fighting. NARRATOR:
America’s sacrifices in the Great War were enormous. More than 323,000
US troops died, were wounded, or went missing. America’s victory
though, gave the US global recognition as a
leader of the free world. And a super power with
a modern military. A turning point in John
Pershing’s long journey, that once lead
through Nebraska. CHRISTOPHER CAPOZOLLA:
If you look at the Army
that Pershing left behind, it has been turned
into a modern force, with a large standing Army. Pershing wasn’t the
only architect of that, but he was the most
important person to execute that transformation. (gentle music) (bass-driven music) JANE THORNGREN: Well it’s kinda
like Nebraska football. You certainly wouldn’t plan a
wedding on Junk Jaunt weekend. STACIA MASON: No.
TINA REICHART: No. This is very important. TINA: This is almost
like … Well it is a national holiday for me. JANE: We call it our
national holiday. STACIA: True. JANE: We wait all year
for the Junk Jaunt. (driving music) JANE: We never … We
didn’t do the very first year of the Junk Jaunt. Somehow we missed that, and then I think I told
you guys about it. TINA: We talked about it on
a Friday night and we decided that we were gonna go.
JANE: And we decided to go. And we loaded up
and we had a ball. TINA: We left
Grand Island at like, it seemed like 4:30
in the morning. JANE: It might
have been and we … TINA: First stop
was in Cotesfield. JANE: We decided we were
gonna get all the way up to somewhere, I can’t remember. TINA: Burwell.
JANE: But we stopped probably 40 times before we got there. STACIA: Yeah, we didn’t
make it to Burwell. JANE: Cause you see
the orange signs, those neon orange signs and
your heart starts to palpitate. (driving music) STACIA: I think
with the competition it started with good
friends of ours, a mother and two daughters. They found out that we
needed places to stay on the Junk Jaunt, and they
offered their cabin to us. And we would buy
them goofy gifts. So we would, during our
shopping, we would find things that were absolutely
ridiculous or funny. TINA: The people that would
follow you across the room. STACIA: Right,
different gifts. And every year they
got really excited and then they’d
buy us gifts too. And we got to
talking and came up with the idea of
a scavenger hunt. And having a neutral
party that knew both teams come up with a pretty crazy
list of oddities to find. JANE: Including the Punky
Brewster memorabilia, which we never ever found.
STACIA: Yes. JANE: Punky has a middle name. STACIA: Yeah, and it’s not nice. JANE: And it’s not Ann or Jo.
STACIA: No. No. JANE: One of the
rules that we developed, we started to meet
in Cairo at noon. The list is released to
us, brought down, released. We go over the rules
so there’s, ya know- TINA: We narrow it
down to a certain amount. JANE: Yeah and we
cut out the things that we know we won’t be able to find because we’re seasoned
Junk Jaunters. STACIA: There’s a lot
of cussin’ and discussin’ over the list a little
bit between the two teams. JANE: And it gets heated. STACIA: Yeah. (driving music) STACIA: Well, the couch. TINA: I still think the
couch was a good deal. JANE: The couch was from the old
Sears catalog too wasn’t it? TINA: It was, yup, after I
tore it apart to fix it up, all the paperwork
was underneath of it. It was shipped from
Sears in Chicago by rail to Dannebrog, Nebraska in 1910. I had somebody refinish,
or re-cover it for me. STACIA: But that was
heck of a deal you got. TINA: Yeah, I
bought it for 50 bucks, and I had it evaluated
for insurance purposes. And we’ll just say it was
worth several thousand dollars. (driving music) JANE: This part of the
country on the Junk Jaunt is so beautiful and
the people are so nice. TINA: I really think
you’re missing out on Nebraska if you don’t get up in that
area and meet those people. JANE: Into Sand Hills. TINA: And see all that
in the north Loup area. It’s very very very pretty. JANE: Oh, it’s
gorgeous up there. We drove back yesterday
along the Loup River and it was just awesome. The trees were
starting to turn and the river just
winds through there. And there’s big
hills on this side. (driving music) Yeah, there’s some wineries. TINA: Not only wineries but
there’s breweries now. JANE: There’s brew pubs,
we’re gonna look it up. STACIA: Yeah,
I’m excited about that. We’re flying by the seat
of our pants, so to speak. TINA: We’ve met people from
Florida, Washington, Alberta, Canada, we’ve met
people from California. Some people have signing books, please put where you’re from. JANE: We always put Nova Scotia. STACIA: Yeah, well, sometimes. I’ve signed in as Patsy Cline. JANE: And Lady Gaga.
TINA: Yeah. (They all laugh) JANE: Usually the last
weekend in September in Nebraska is the place to be. (music) NARRATOR: Many children
grow up going to the movies. Some even imagine
being in them. For a select few, that
dream actually happens. JULIE KUSHNER: She’s always
been interested in kinda dressing
up, princess play, that kinda stuff
when she was little. By the time she
was like five-ish, she would watch a
lot of television, watch a lot of movies and stuff. And when she turned
six, she was like, “Mom, I wanna do that.” NARRATOR: Eva Bella
is a child actress, originally from Omaha. Of the five films nominated
for Best Animated Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards, Eva lent her voice
to three of them, including Disney’s Frozen. I had the chance
to talk with Eva while she was back in Nebraska. EVA BELLA: Frozen has meant
everything to me, basically. It just, it’s an amazing movie. I think the movie’s
really touched everybody. It’s just so amazing to me. None of us knew that
it would be this big. We thought oh it’s
just gonna be … You know, a Disney movie. And it’s responded so
amazingly to other people that that’s the
best part about it. YOUNG ELSA: You’re
okay Anna, I got you. FATHER:
Elsa, what have you done? NARRATOR: With
her main claim to fame the role of Young
Elsa in Frozen, Eva is continuing to
grow as an actress. EVA: It’s really fun like
when you get a script you get to be the person. Cause normally when
you’re yourself, you’re yourself and you
have your own personality. But you get to feel
someone else’s personality and feelings through a script. Which is what I think
is the coolest part. The thing with voiceover is, first off, animation’s
really cool, and you always get to see
it before other people. Which is awesome. And it’s just fun
feeling the character just through your voice, without showing any face,
emotions, or anything else. You just get to use your voice. JULIE: And the funny thing
is, we always … Eva goes into my closet,
our bedroom closet, she takes my phone with
her, she records the lines, and then we just forward
that on to her agent. So she’s actually
booked a lot of jobs from recording herself
in our bedroom closet, which is kinda funny. NARRATOR: It hasn’t
been all smooth sailing in attempting to start
a young acting career. That first year, Eva’s father
and brother stayed behind. Keeping that family
connection from a distance was a struggle. JULIE: It was really difficult, particularly, you know, Tim
didn’t have a lot of support. My sister Jessica was living
in Pittsburgh at the time, and she would
literally drive in, spend the week with Max, and then drive another
five to six hours, to help Tim during
the week with Max. Max turned 10 and
I was in LA and he was in Indiana at the time. You know, and we’re Skyping, and having Skype sessions
with your 10 year old on his birthday,
that’s heartbreaking. So it was definitely
a lot of sacrifice. NARRATOR: With
the family reunited, the sacrifices have paid off. And Eva is ambitious
about her future. EVA: I want to be a director. And I want to be an
entertainment lawyer. GAVIN FELIX: What about
producing? What about giving an interview? Is that something that
you maybe wanna try? EVA: Yeah. GAVIN: Get up and
switch me seats.
EVA: Yes. Awesome. GAVIN: Alright, you can ask
me whatever you want. EVA: Okay, do you like your job? GAVIN: I love my job. EVA: What’s your favorite
part of your job? GAVIN: My favorite part of
my job is being able to create a story and being able
to interview people like you. And being able to build
it from the initial idea to the final product. It’s pretty cool,
it’s pretty cool. I think that’s what you’ll
like about being a director. That was a great interview,
thanks for having me here. EVA: Thank you for coming. GAVIN: Alright, good. JULIE: You know, you get so
many no’s in Hollywood, and you get one yes. And it changes your
attitude about everything. As a parent, knowing that
the sacrifices you made have really helped your
child fulfill their dreams and really have some
amazing experiences as a 10 year old child. I mean, those are gifts
that she’ll never, she’ll never forget
that kinda stuff. (bass-driven music) VOICEOVER: To see
more Nebraska Stories, go to our website. And like us on Facebook. Nebraska Stories
is funded by the Margaret and Martha
Thomas Foundation. Sustained funding for arts
coverage on Nebraska Stories is provided by the H. Lee and
Carol Gendler Charitable Fund. Captioning by FINKE/NET (music) Copyright 2018
NET Foundation for Television