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the mary schafer collection: a legacy of quilt history


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Mary Schafer’s Bicentennial Quilts

The celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States helped foster a renewed interest in quilting in America.  Across the country, individuals and groups made quilts that paid tribute to important events and individuals in the nation’s history.  Mary’s series of quilts made during the 1970s included ones that incorporated images of or references to Washington, Lafayette, General Burgoyne, Molly Pitcher, and the American Flag.

During this period quilting publications became more widely available and interest in the public display of quilts was heightened.  Mary participated in as many as quilt shows as possible.

Photo of Eisenhower quilt  

Mary Schafer, piecer
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
56 x 102
MSUM# 1998:53.32

Made for her grandson, the Eisenhower quilt began as a simple variation of a nine patch.  Mary soon decided to make President Eisenhower the theme.   The center block was replaced with a symbol of Eisenhower’s military and political service to the country represented by the eagle and five stars.  The laurel leaves of the border represent the honors he received.  A continuous vine wrapping around the border represents his unity with the people.  Forty-eight stars can be found in the appliqué and in the quilting stitches to represent the number of states during his presidency.

Photo of Burgoynne Surrounded quilt  

Burgoyne Surrounded
Mary Schafer, piecer
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
84 x 104
MSUM# 1998:53.10

The design commemorated the Battle of Saratoga.  Here, British General John Burgoyne was surrounded and surrendered on October 17, 1777.  The event is represented symbolically in the quilt by the blue squares symbolizing the Americans circling around the red squares symbolizing the British.  In the border, the blue American squares can be found breaking through the red British lines.  Within the quilting, Mary chose to use the Maltese cross as a representation of George III.

Photo of Lafayette Orange Peel quilt  

Lafayette Orange Peel
Mary Schafer, piecer
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
85 x 100
MSUM# 1998:53.48

Often colorful mythology has arisen around the naming of quilt blocks or patterns.  The story behind this tribute to Marquis de Lafayette can be found in Dolores Hinson’s A Quilter’s Companion.  The mythology of this pattern speaks of an honoring banquet in Philadelphia.  Oranges were served, and Lafayette divided the skin into four parts with his knife before peeling the fruit.  A young woman asked for the skins as a souvenir, then took the peels and arranged them into a pattern for a quilt design.  Found in the quilting designs are a fleur de lis, a symbol of King Louis XVI’s aide to the colonies, and thirteen stars to represent Lafayette’s service during the American Revolution.

Photo of Queen Charlotte's Crown quilt  

Queen Charlotte’s Crown
Mary Schafer, piecer
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton, Cotton/Polyester
80 x 103
MSUM# 1998: 53.79

Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, was the last queen to rule over America.  Mary explained the pattern choice in the Bicentennial series stating, “one of the most difficult aspects of the Revolution for the colonists was severing their lifelong allegiance to the Queen.”  The arrangement of the blocks pointing towards a central Maltese cross represented the rule of King George III.  A resemblance to crown points can be found in the border’s triangle and square design.  This quilt design is also known as Indian Meadow.

Photo of Spirit of '76 quilt  

Spirit of 76
Mary Schafer, piecer
Ida Pullum, quilter
c. 1974
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with Polyester batting
83 x 101
MSUM# 1998:53.93

This quilt was “dedicated to the patriots of 1776 and those who followed in service to our country.”  The center block design is called “The Flag”, symbolic of the first Stars and Stripes.  In Mary’s notes, she suggests that the spirit of ’76 is dynamic and still in motion today.  As the final quilt of the Bicentennial, Mary chose not the subtle symbolism of the other quilts in the series, but a resplendent stars and stripes salute to the patriots of 1776.

Photo of Molly Pitcher quilt  

Molly Pitcher Quilt
Mary Schafer, piecer; Ida Pullum, quilter
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
78-1/2” x 106” 
MSUM# 1998:53.60

The center square contains an embroidered image of Molly Pitcher, the Revolutionary heroine.  The pieced blocks are based on an unnamed pattern from Connecticut.  Mary found this old, unnamed design among the Nancy Page patterns.  To Mary, the selection of this block allowed the quilt to not only pay tribute to Molly Pitcher, but to the anonymous female heroines of the past.  The original quilting design is of a laurel wreath with a center star.

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