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the mary schafer collection: a legacy of quilt history


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Mary Schafer’s “Challenge Period”

During what she termed her “challenge period,” Mary not only increased her commitment to the study and making of quilts, but also became determined “to raise in popular esteem” the appreciation of quilts by educating the public about quilts and their history.  Mary received her first invitation to conduct a workshop in April of 1971 at the Flint (Michigan) YWCA and subsequently spoke to many groups, particularly in the Great Lakes region, on both historical and technical aspects of quilting.

During this period Mary made quilts in patterns and styles she felt were important in quilt history.  The collection of her quilts thus became instructional tools by which she could teach others about aspects of quilting history.

Photo of Clamshell quilt  

Mary Schafer
c. 1966
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with Polyester batting
82 x 96
MSUM# 1998:53.13

The complexity of piecing the Clamshell pattern, due to the connecting of convex and concave edges, made this historically a quilt with a high level of difficulty.  The National Quilt Association awarded two blue ribbons to this Clamshell quilt at their charter show in 1970.  It is also the first quilt pictured in Delores Hinson’s book, A Quilters Companion.

Photo of Lobster quilt  

Mary Schafer
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with polyester batting
80 x 94
MSUM# 1998:53.53

Mary discovered a picture of this quilt in Florence Peto’s Historic Quilts (1939).  Peto credited the name of the design as a reference to the red uniforms of the British soldiers known as “Lobsterbacks” during the American Revolution.  Depicted in the appliqué design are lobsters’ pincers and tails.  Mary considered this quilt not only as a rare, historic pattern, but also as a tribute to the pioneering quilt study work of Florence Peto.  Responding to Schafer’s work, Peto wrote “Do you know I have never seen another ‘Lobster’ quilt since the one pictured in Historic Quilts; I am happy to know you are keeping the design alive.” (Peto in letter to Schafer, February 7, 1968)

Photo of Grapes and Vines quilt  

Grapes and Vines
Mary Schafer
c. 1972
Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan
Cotton with Polyester Batting
88 x 98
MSUM# 1998:53.43

Mary Schafer’s “Grapes and Vines” is patterned after a quilt pictured in Marie Webster’s classic 1915 book, Quilts.  The intricate appliqué design was a trademark of Webster’s work.  Mary received the pattern from the estate of Betty Harriman in 1971.


Public Acclaim for Mary Schafer and Her Quilts

By the time of the quilting revival of the 1970s, Mary Schafer had become a well-known figure in the quilting world.  Mary collaborated with Gwen Marston and Joe Cunningham on exhibits and public programming.  Their efforts cumulated in the book, Mary Schafer and Her Quilts (MSU Press, 1990).  In addition to giving talks on quilting, Mary received awards for the quilts she had in numerous quilt contests and shows and her collection was shown in many exhibitions.  In 1986, Mary was honored with Michigan Senate Resolution No. 605, honoring her for “many contributions to the art of quiltmaking.”

Photo of Q is for Quilt quilt  

Q is for Quilt
Mary Schafer, Gwen Marston, Joe Cunningham
Gwen Marston and Joe Cunningham, quilters
Flushing, Genesee County and Beaver Island, Michigan
70” x 82”
MSUM# 6714.1

Q is for Quilt is the result of a children’s book written by Gwen Marston rendering the alphabet through quilt patterns.  Mary created the blocks in this quilt from traditional patterns with the exception of her original Cherry Wreath.   Her collaborators, Gwen Marston and Joe Cunningham set the blocks together and quilted the piece.  Kate Darnell provided the illustrations of the patterns. Revenue form Q is for Quilt helps to support the Michigan Quilt Project.


The Mary Schafer Quilt and Ephemera Collection

In the mid-1990s, the MSU Museum began to work with Mary in order to keep her wonderful collection of quilts and ephemera- books, study fabric, patterns, correspondence, and other materials together for use by researchers and educators.  With the generous support of the Ruth Mott Fund, Kitty Clark Cole and Jeffrey Cole, and numerous individuals and quilt groups, the core of Mary Schafer’s collection was purchased for the MSU Museum.



Curator/Primary Researcher: Mary Worrall
Curatorial consultant and editorial assistance: Marsha MacDowell
Additional research, assistance, and virtual exhibit development: Beth Donaldson
Curatorial Assistance: Lynne Swanson
Exhibit Fabrication: Phil Lienhart
Exhibit Design: Melinda Hamilton and Mary Worrall
Graphic Design: Melinda Hamilton
Object photography: Pearl Yee Wong, KEVA, Mary Whalen
Additional assistance provided by: Michele Beltran, Latricia Horstman, Dustin O'Connor, Katy Donaldson, and Laura Porteous
Funding for this exhibit was provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Country Stitches, Kitty Clark Cole, and MSU Offices of the Provost and Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies.

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