The Davenport Public Library presents “Spotlight on the Famous Flour Sacks" -- December 15.

Thursday, December 15, noon

Presented by the Davenport Public Library

Presented on December 15 as part of the Davenport Public Library's 3rd Thursday at Hoover's Presidential Library & Museum series, the virtual program Spotlight on the Famous Flour Sacks will recount Herbert Hoover's gift of several hundred decorated flour sacks as gifts for his work with the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), a program established – under Hoover's direction – to provide food relief in war-torn Europe.

The CRB fed millions of people in Belgium and occupied France between 1914 and 1919 by raising money, obtaining food, shipping the food past the British naval blockade and German submarines, and overseeing the distribution of the food by the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation, resulting in some 5.7 million tons of food delivered. The flour was packaged in cotton bags by American mills, and the movement of these bags in Belgium was monitored by the CRB, as cotton could be used in the manufacture of German ammunition. The empty flour sacks were subsequently distributed to professional schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and artists. Professional schools trained women to sew, embroider textiles, and make the famous Belgian lace. Large sewing workrooms were established in Belgian cities to provide work for thousands of unemployed. And the flour sacks were also made into clothing, accessories, pillows, bags, and other functional items.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum's entire collection of decorated Belgian Relief flour sacks from World War I was subjected to a close examination in June 2022, and Annelien van Kempen, visiting researcher from the Netherlands, and Marcus Eckhardt, Hoover Presidential Museum curator, studied every detail. They eventually counted 360 items in this unique survey of war-time American and Canadian flour sacks, decorated by Belgian schoolgirls, women and artists, mainly in 1915, and in their December 15 program for the Davenport Library, van Kempen and Eckhardt will present what they discovered in their fascinating two-week search.

They will share their insights in both the great variety and similarity in sacks, school-projects, flour residues in dresses, patriotic patterns in the embroidery and needlework and delicate lace edges, and also reveal the identity of Belgian schoolgirls who painted and embroidered the sacks. Special attention will be given to paintings of emerging (and now famed) Belgian artists and exquisite embroideries, including the “Rooster on the Oak Branch” flour sack from Antwerp that was presented in a manifestation of gratitude to Mr. Herbert Hoover in August 1916. Van Kempen and Eckhardt will also speak on how, since June, new decorated flour sacks from World War I have come into the museum’s collection, showing there are many more waiting to be discovered.

Spotlight on the Famous Flour Sacks will be presented virtually on December 15, participation in the noon Zoom event is free, and more information is available by calling (563)326-7832 and visiting

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