Friday, May 9, 2014

Ruth B. McDowell - 2014 TQHF Inductee

Ruth B. McDowell Selected for Induction 

Celebration 2014 — July 17-19

 by Karen B. Alexander

McDowell’s Induction ceremony and dinner will be held 
July 19, 2014, 6:30pm
at the Roseburg Event Center in Marion, Indiana.

As the late 20th century quilt-revival steamed its way into the 21st century, some were predicting that the interest in quilting would begin to finally wane. There goes one more negative prognostication down the drain! Quilting is alive and well in the 21st century with another new movement under way — The Modern Quilt Movement.

As we celebrate this new wave of quilting interest, the accumulated documentable history of this wonderful art and craft continues to grow as well. It is hard sometimes for new aficionados of this field to grasp just how far the field of quilt history has come since the founding of The Quilters Hall of Fame in Northern Virginia in 1979 and the founding of the American Quilt Study Group in Northern California in 1980.

One of the purposes of The Quilters Hall of Fame is to celebrate quilting as an art form by honoring the lives and accomplishments of those people who have made outstanding contributions to the world of quilting and by collecting and preserving and documenting materials related to those selected to be inducted into The Quilters Hall of Fame. As this body of information grows, it is fascinating to cross-reference the paths taken by each Inductee and the influences that shaped each career and life.

"Amaryllis" copyright 2014 Ruth B. McDowell

Our 45th Honoree, Ruth B. McDowell of Colrain, Massachusetts, graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967 with a B.S. in Art and Design. Here is a young woman primed by education as well as natural proclivity to respond to the world of design and color around her. What caused an architectural student to steer her course toward quilting? 

As chance would have it, among other influences of the times, it was another Honoree of the Hall of Fame’s work: Ruby Short McKim. After reading McKim’s 101 Patchwork Patterns in 1972, McDowell was particularly intrigued with McKim’s geometric renderings of flowers.  She found them “ graphically interesting, botanically recognizable and straightforward to piece with traditional methods.”  

McDowell’s interest in herbs predated her interest in quilts by many years and she was an active member of the Herb Society of America. After making a few traditional quilts — but still thinking about those geometric McKim designs and having been recently motivated by a Nancy Crow workshop (another TQHF Inductee)  — McDowell found herself wandering around her herb garden with graph paper and pencil in hand, looking for the perfect plant/leaf adaptable to graph paper. 

Her eye considered rosemary and lavender and even lemon balm. Hmmm, none easily pieced or appliquéd. Then her eye fell on the lowly celandine (Cheliodonium major). (See page 18 of McDowell's book "Art & Inspirations" for a photo of this quilt.)

A sketch drawn, a forty-inch square quilt, machine pieced with a single yellow flower appliquéd in the center, emerged. “When it was finished, I felt certain this was the beginning of what I was meant to do.”  A series of herb quilts ensued. 

It would be tempting to say at this point that “the rest is history”, but that robs us of the story of a colorful, creative, artistic life

"In a 30-year career, as a self supporting professional artist, I have made around 530 quilts." 

The inspiration for most of McDowell’s 530 quilts to date has come from nature. Her artistic style has shown consistent development and her unique approach to pieced quilts has inspired ten books. McDowell’s 1982 “Twelve Dancing Princesses (Or The Shoes That Danced Themselves To Pieces)” and “The Yellow Maple” (1988) — which won the Quilt National 1989 People's Choice Award — were included in the 20th Century’s Best American Quilts, selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of the top foremost quilting experts of the late 20th century from many different fields of quilting expertise. 

"Yellow Birches - March " copyright 2013 Ruth B. McDowell

"There is a unique quality to a pieced quilt, quite different from an appliquéd, fused or painted quilt, which has to do with the way it is put together….giving the final quilt a structural integrity that is very different from surface designs."  Ruth McDowell

Since that first quilt in 1972, McDowell has shared her exceptional design and teaching skills all over the world and her award winning quilts are highly sought by collectors. Her work has been exhibited in juried, invitational, and solo shows nationally and in Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

McDowell wrote her first book, Pattern on Pattern (Quilt Digest Press) in 1991. Her 1996 book Art and Inspirations: Ruth B. McDowell (C&T Publishing) was a retrospective of Ruth’s career at that point and features full-color illustrations of 97 of her quilts, many color details and drawings, and a fascinating text. 

As Ruth refined her understanding of both the designing and teaching of pieced quilts, she rewrote and further expanded her best-selling book Ruth B. McDowell's Piecing Workshop and now offers on her web site several of her titles as print-on-demand and e-books. Visit her site by clicking here to see many of her more recent quilts and some that are for sale. 

Please join us in Marion, Indiana, July 17-19, 2014 to celebrate and honor the art and career of Ruth B. McDowell.

"Summer Visitors"  copyright 2013 Ruth B. McDowell

"The many figured fabrics I use add an incredible richness to the surface patterning, as well as connect the quilt to the use of fabrics in other times, places and lives." Ruth McDowell

Sources & References

Quilters Newsletter Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 6, June 1986 (Issue #183, pg. 8)

McDowell, Ruth B. Art & Inspirations. Lafayette, CA. C&T Publishing, 1996

Quilters Newsletter Magazine, Vol. 45, No. 2, April/May 2014 (Issue #439, pg. 24-27)

Fiber Art Now: Fiber Arts & Textile Magazine

Click here to see more McDowell quilts -

Click here for Ruth B. McDowell website:

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