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. 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.
After making a few traditional quilts- but still thinking about those geometric McKim designs and having been recently motivated by a Nancy Crow workshop- 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. Then her eye fell on the lowly celandine (Cheliodonium major). A sketch drawn, a forty-inch square quilt, machine pieced with a single yellow flower appliqued 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.
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) were included in the 20th Century’s Best American Quilts.
by Karen Alexander, Quilt Historian
Photo courtesy Ruth B. McDowell
"My quilts happen through a process that is certainly non-verbal... a conjunction of things seen/ heard/ felt with fabrics/ patterns/ images starting a conversation that is interpreted as a quilt."
Ruth B. McDowell
interview with Ann Palkovich Shaw