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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Mary Schafer
Photo by Mary Whalen

Photo of Mary Schafer's Oak Leaf and Cherries quilt
Oak Leaf and Cherries
Photo by Fumio Ichikawa

Photo of Mary Schafer's Pineapple quilt
Photo by KEVA

Mary Schafer
2002 awardee, Flushing (Genesee County), quilter, quilt educator, and quilting historian

Mary Schafer (1910-2006) has long been recognized as one of the forerunners in quilt studies as well as the developer of one of the most important quilt history collections in the United States. In addition to being well known for her exemplary quilting, Mary has been a staunch supporter of local history organizations, loaning her quilts for exhibitions and regularly donating quilts to raise funds through raffles and other fundraisers.

Mary was born on April 27, 1910 in Austria-Hungary and immigrated with her family first to Kansas City, Kansas and then, in 1920, to Flint. Her mother passed away shortly after coming to Kansas City but other women in her neighborhood there and in Michigan nurtured Mary's early love of sewing, tatting, and other needlework. She made her first quilt in 1956, copying an old one she had found and repaired, and, in the process, became interested in quilting and quilt history.

During this period, published materials on quilting were scarce and often hard to find, but Mary diligently wrote others, joined "round robins," subscribed to ephemeral quilting magazines, and became one of the leaders in a network of individuals sharing information. Determined to share her newfound information about quilters with others "because I think that they should have more honor than they have for their work" (1), Mary gave her first public presentation in April 1971 at the YWCA and subsequently spoke to many groups, particularly in the Great Lakes region, on both historical and technical aspects of quilting. Simultaneously, she began entering her own quilts in juried quilt exhibitions, winning top prizes in local and national events for her classic quilts featuring original borders and quilting designs-elements that became Mary's trademark. By the time of the quilting revival of the 1970s, Mary had become a well-known figure in the quilting world.

Recently, individuals and groups across Michigan and the nation donated funds to help the MSU Museum acquired part of her collection--developed over a period of 40 years--of more than 200 quilts plus quilt tops, fabrics, and quilt blocks representative of most quilt styles and periods in American history. This collection, now in public stewardship, will continue Mary's dream of celebrating quilters and educating the public about quilt history.

(1) Schafer, Mary. Audio-recorded interview with Mary Worall. 12 December 2001

Click here to view more samples from the Mary Schafer Quilt and Ephemera Collection

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