Collector, historian, quiltmaker and generous friend are some of the terms used to describe Mary Barton, a woman who had a mission: to collect historically important Iowa quilts and related material for others to study and enjoy. Soft-spoken, she modestly stated, "I prefer to call my work independent research, conservation, and preservation."
Mary's desire to collect, understand, and share resulted in one of the most comprehensive collections of quilts, costumes and fashion plates ever assembled and donated to public institutions. Concerned about some fine Iowa quilts bringing high bids at auction and leaving the state for distant eastern museums, she recognized the need to save as much as she could of Iowa's heritage.
Mary was one of the first to collect both clothing and women's magazines as a means to provide a reliable way of documenting and dating quilts by the fabrics they contained. Her meticulous notes and countless scrapbooks have made important comparative studies possible. Beginning in the 1970s, she donated items from her collection to various organizations in her home state, including the Farm House Museum and the textiles and clothing department at Iowa State University, Simpson College in Indianola, and the First United Methodist Church in Ames.
Mary Barton passed away on December 7, 2003. At her funeral service, her family displayed some of the quilts she had made- a fitting tribute to Mary's quilt-filled life.
Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Iowa.
"I just try to preserve material which will be useful to future historians."
Mary Barton, Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, no. 141 (April 1982), p. 29