Skip to Content

MacDowell, Marsha, Ph.D.

Curator of Folk Arts, MSU Museum
Professor, Department of Art and Art History

Research Interests/Experience

MacDowell’s work is centered in the study of the production, use and meaning of traditional material culture. This inquiry is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture informed by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies. Special interests include critical examination of the role of museums in contemporary society; development of educational resources and public arts policies related to traditional arts; and development of strategies to make collected data accessible online and then to create tools to engage individuals in using these online collections for research and education. She has been particularly interested in developing research projects in collaboration with representatives of the communities and cultural groups and in being engaged in projects that have a positive impact on identified societal needs.

As coordinator since 1984 of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a statewide partnership between the MSU Museum and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs) she has led or collaborated on many research, documentation, collection development, exhibition, publication, and education activities focused on Michigan’s traditional cultural heritage. In addition to this Michigan based and focused work, she has also been deeply engaged in projects of regional, national and international scope. She is the director of the Quilt Index (www.quiltindex.org), a digital repository of stories, images, and other data related to quilts, quilt artists, and quiltmaking from dispersed private and publication collections around the world.

Current research projects include a history of South Africa quiltmaking; traditions of patchwork covers in China; quilts and health; the history and meaning of lau hala in Hawaiian cultural history; and the intersection of ethnography and museums in a digital age.

Past studies have included ones on historical and contemporary Great Lakes Native quilting, quillwork, and basketmaking traditions; the impact of the 1930s-era The Detroit News Quilt Show and WWJ radio quilt show on quiltmaking in Michigan; the development of Native basketmaking organizations in the U.S.; identification and oral history documentation of key leaders of the late 20th-century quilt revival in the U.S.; and oral history in a digital age. These efforts have resulted in publications, exhibitions, online digital resources, festival programs, and educational programs and curriculum materials. They have also resulted in building unique new collections at the MSU Museum and strengthening older collections.

MacDowell was founding editor of H-Quilts, founding and current board member of The Alliance for American Quilts, a past-president of The American Quilt Study Group, , a core founding and core faculty member of the Museum Studies Program at MSU, executive board member for the American Folklore Society, and member of the editorial board of the international journal Museum Anthropology. She is currently a member of the editorial board for Museum Anthropology Review.

MacDowell is also a co-founder of the MSU Museum Studies Program and serves as one of its core faculty members and as the program’s ENews editor and coordinator of internships.

Selected Publications

Books and catalogues

  • [expected in print in 2015] Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, Mary Worrall, and Beth Donaldson, Quilts and Human Rights, University of Nebraska Press
  • O’Neill, Lia Keawe, Marsha MacDowell, and C. Kurt Dewhurst, eds.`Ike Ulana Lau Hala. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2014.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Carolyn Mazloomi, eds. Conscience of the Spirit: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela, Tributes by American and South African Quilt Artists. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum, 2014.
  • Wells, Kate, Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, and Marit Dewhurst. 2012. Siyazama: Traditional Arts, AIDS, and Education in South Africa. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of KwaZulu Natal Press.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and LuAnne Kozma. 2008. Folk Arts in Education: A Resource Book II. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum. [funded by the National Endowment for the Arts]
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Kathleen Myers. 2007. Weaving History: A Basket Heritage Project. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum in collaboration with the Association of Michigan Basketweavers.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Julie Avery. 2006. CraftWORKS! Michigan: A Report on Traditional Crafts and Economic Development in Michigan. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum in collaboration with Office of Economic Development, Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, State of Michigan.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Ariel Zeitlin Cooke. 2005. Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum in partnership with the Vermont Folklife Center and Citylore.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Yvonne Lockwood. 2004 Honoring Traditions: Artists and Michigan’s Cultural Heritage. East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2003. American Quilts From Michigan State University Museum, Tokyo, Japan, Hokosai Art.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2001. Great Lakes, Great Quilts, Lafayette, CA, C&T Publishing.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 1999. Gatherings: Great Lakes Native Basket and Box Makers, East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Museum in collaboration with the Nokomis Learning Center.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 1998. African American Quiltmaking Traditions in Michigan, East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Press.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, ed. 1997. Contemporary Great Lakes Dance Regalia: “Nda Maamaawigaami (Together We Dance).” East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum with the Nokomis American Indian Learning Center.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1997. To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions, Santa Fe, Museums of New Mexico Press.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, ed. 1996. Anishnaabek: Traditional Artists of Little Traverse Bay. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Janice Reed, eds. 1995. Sisters of the Great Lakes: Art of American Indian Women. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum with the Nokomis American Indian Learning Center.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 1989. Stories in Thread: Hmong Pictorial Embroidery, East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Museum.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 1987. Folk Arts in Education: A Resource Handbook, East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Museum.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Ruth D. Fitzgerald.1987. Michigan Quilts: 150 Years of a Textile Tradition, East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University
  • Museum MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1983. Michigan Hmong Arts, East Lansing, Michigan State University Museum
  • MacDowell, Marsha, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell. 1982. Reflections of Faith: Religious Folk Art in America, New York, E. P. Dutton and Company.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1981. Downriver and Thumb Area Michigan Waterfowling: The Folk Arts of Nate Quillen and Otto Misch. East Lansing: Michigan State University.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1980. Cast in Clay: The Folk Pottery of Grand Ledge, Michigan. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell. 1979. Artists in Aprons: The Folk Art by American Women, New York, E. P. Dutton and Company.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1978. Rainbows in the Sky: The Folk Art of Michigan in the Twentieth Century. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1976. Michigan Folk Art, Its Beginnings to 1941. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum.

Selected articles and book chapters since 2006

  • Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Diana Baird N’Diaye, and Marsha L. MacDowell, “Cultivating Connectivity: Moving Toward Inclusive Excellence in Museums”, Curator: The Museum Journal, Special Issue on Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Vol. 57, No. 4 (October 2014), pp. 1-18.
  • Dewhurst, C. Kurt and Marsha MacDowell, 2013. “Going Public Through International Museum Partnerships.” In Hiram Fitzgerald, ed. Going Public. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, pp. 265-290.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, Amanda Sikarskie, Justine Richardson, Mary Worrall. 2013. “Stitched Together: How and Why Historians Should Use Quilts from the Quilt Index in Their Scholarship”. Perspectives in History (Journal of the American Historical Studies Association)
  • MacDowell, Marsha, Justine Richardson, Mary Worrall, Amanda Sikarskie, and Steve Cohen. 2013. “Quilted Together: How a Digital Repository of Thematic Collections is Enhancing Material Culture Pedagogy.” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 47, No. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn 2013), pp. 139-159.
  • Marit Dewhurst, Marsha MacDowell, Cherie Okada, Lia O'Neill M. A. Keawe, and Annette Kuuipolani Wong. 2013. “Ka ulana ‘ana i ka piko/ In weaving you begin at the center: Perspectives from a culturally specific approach to art education.” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 83:1 (spring 2013) pp. 136-146
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2012. “Project Planning and Management for Oral Histories in a Digital Age.” Oral History in a Digital Age. Report from Institute for Museum and Library Services funded National Leadership project. http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/project-planning-and-management/
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Clare Luz, “Quilts and Health”, Quilters Newsletter Magazine, December/January 2012, pp. 44-47.
  • Weems, Mickey, Marsha MacDowell, and Mike Smith. 2012. “The Quilt.” Qualia Folk. http://www.qualiafolk.com/2011/12/08/the-quilt/, December 8, 2012.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, Mary Worrall, Amanda Sikarskie, and Justine Richardson. 2011. “The Quilt Index: From Preservation and Access to Co-Creation of Knowledge. New Directions in Folklore, Quiltmakers in the Digital Age Special Issue. Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 8-40. http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ndif/index
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2011. “New Directions in Creating and Using Folklife Collections in the United States.” Cultural Heritage (Guangdong, China: Institute of Chinese Intangible Heritage, Sun Yat-sen University), No. 1, 2011, pp 104-107.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Wolfgang Mieder. 2010. “When Life Hands Your Scraps, Make a Quilt": Quiltmakers and the Tradition of Proverbial Inscriptions," Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship 27:2010, pp. 113-172.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2010. “South African Quiltmaking: Textiles in a Rainbow Nation,” Quilts Around the World. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, pp 294-299.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. 2009. “Native Quilting: History, Traditions, and Studies,” In Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin, editors, Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950, London and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.. pp. 129-148.
  • Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Marsha MacDowell, and Narissa Ramdhani, 2008. “Lessons Lived and Learned in Developing and Managing a Bi-National Cultural Heritage Sector Project in South Africa,” Museum Anthropology Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, 27-43
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Bobbie Malone. 2007. “Authentic Sources,” In Anne Pryor, Nancy B. Blake (eds), Quilting Circles, Learning Communities, Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wisconsin Arts Board, 57-62 pages (book chapter)
  • MacDowell, Marsha and LuAnne G. Kozma. 2007. “FOLKPATTERNS: A Place-Based Youth Cultural Heritage Program,” Journal of Museum Education, 32 (3)
  • MacDowell, Marsha, and Mary Worrall, Charlotte Quinney, Joanna E. Evans. 2006. “The K.K.K. Fundraising Quilt of Chicora, Michigan, Uncoverings 2006: Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, 27, 91-122.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Marjorie Hunt. 2006. “Carriers of Culture: Native Basketry in America,” Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2006, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution, 46-63 pages.

Selected Exhibitions (since 2006)

  • 2014. Spirit of the Conscience: The Life of Nelson Mandela. Quilt Tributes by US and South African Artists. Michigan State University Museum and the Women of Color Quilters Network, First presented at International Quilt Conference Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 24-26. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Carolyn Mazloomi with Jenny Hearn)
  • 2014. Ruby Bridges, Brown v Board of Education, and Greater Lansing Sites of Conscience. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Mary Worrall)
  • 2014. Ralli Quilts, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson and Mary Worrall)
  • 2013. Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of American Traditions. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Alan Govenar and Marsha MacDowell)
  • 2013. Materializing Mandela. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
  • 2012. The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st Century America. US Embassy, Beijing. (Curators: Theresa Hollingsworth, Katy Malone, Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
  • 2012. Ruth Clement Bond: Quilt Art, Activism, and an Extraordinary African American Life. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
  • 2010. Dear Mrs Parks: Dear Mr Mandela: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Noel Solani, and Khwezi Mpumlawana)
  • 2009. Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, African American Quilt Scholar. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Mary Worrall)
  • 2008. Dear Mrs Parks: Dear Mr Mandela: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons. Exhibition. Nelson Mandela Museum, Mthatha, South Africa. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Gregory Reed, Noel Solani, and Khwezi Mpumlwana)
  • 2008. Quilts and Human Rights. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and Mary Worrall)
  • 2007. Weaving History: A Basket Heritage Project. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and Kathleen Myers)
  • 2006. Siyazama: AIDS, Traditional Arts, and Education in South Africa. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Marit Dewhurst, and Kate Wells)
  • 2006. Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: MacDowell, Marsha MacDowell, Steve Zeitlin, and Ariel Zeitlin)
  • 2006. Carriers of Culture: Native Basket Tradition Preview. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and C. Kurt Dewhurst)

Selected Honors

  • International Quilt Study Center Research Fellowship
  • Américo Paredes Award, American Folklore Society, 2004
  • Thailand Museums and Communities, Fulbright, 1992
  • All-University Excellence in Diversity Award, Michigan State University, 1991
  • Crystal Award, City of East Lansing, 1990
  • American Association of State and Local History Award, 1988

Degrees

Ph.D., Education, Michigan State University, 1982
M.F.A., Studio Art, Michigan State University, 1974