Marie Webster wanted a new quilt for her bedroom, so she dusted off her quilt-making skills, turned to her garden for inspiration, and created an appliqué quilt with pastel pink roses, a pale green lattice, and a swag border. She was an expert sewer and needleworker, but she hadn’t made a quilt since the crazy quilt that she had worked on during her engagement. It turned out to be the perfect complement to her home at 926 S. Washington St. in Marion, Indiana.
Little did she know that her new quilt would be the start of something big.
Marie Daugherty was born in Wabash, Indiana in 1859. She married George Webster on Valentine’s Day 1884; pursued her interests in reading, amateur dramatics, and traveling; and lived in Chicago until the Websters and their only son, Lawrence, moved to Marion in 1902. Their home was just a few blocks from the first well that had been drilled after natural gas had been discovered in Marion in 1887, transforming the quiet seat of Grant County into a prosperous town.
The Websters’ Colonial Revival home was the epitome of style. Its bay windows and carved wooden staircase were elegant features. Fireplace mantles featured stylized Tuscan columns, geometric leaf designs, classical torch and festoon motifs. Flanking what-not shelves were perfect places to display decorative items. And its new quilt was all the rage among devotees of the Colonial Revival aesthetic movement, which elevated everyday items like handmade bedcoverings to works of art.
Popular magazines followed the Colonial Revival trend, providing content on quilting and needlework and publishing patterns so that readers could bring the Arts and Crafts style into their homes. One of those magazines was the Ladies’ Home Journal. Editor Edward Bok commissioned Jessie Wilcox Smith and Maxfield Parrish, well-known artists of the day, to create quilt patterns to be published in the magazine.Marie’s friends convinced her to send her “Pink Rose” quilt to the Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok was hooked. He asked her to create three more designs for a color feature on quilts. The four designs — “Pink Rose,” “Iris,” “Snowflake” and “Wind Blown Tulip” — ran in the January 1911 issue. Four more of Marie’s designs — “Poppy,” “Morning Glory,” “White Dogwood” and “Sunflower” — were featured in the January 1912 issue. Six designs for baby quilts — “Pansies and Butterflies,” “Sunbonnet Lassies,” “Daisies,” “Wild Rose,” “Morning Glory Wreath” and “Bedtime” were published in the August 1912 issue. More quilting articles followed.
Marie enhanced the three-dimensionality of her pastel floral designs by quilting around the outside of each flower and leaf. Other innovative techniques included stitching details like leaf veins and flower centers, and ghost-quilting spiderwebs, wreaths, birds and blossoms in the center of the quilt.
Marie’s quilts were a hit with Ladies’ Home Journal readers, and requests for the patterns poured in. To keep up with the demand, Lawrence, now a mechanical engineer, made blueprints of the patterns. Marie added instructions, together with fabric swatches and full-size tissue-paper placement guides to show how to arrange the appliqué pieces, and sold each pattern for 50 cents. Later, Marie began providing pre-cut fabric kits, and partially completed and finished quilts.
Marie’s mail-order quilt business took off, and her sister and two friends helped fulfill orders. The Practical Patchwork Company was an entrepreneurial success, but it never left Marie’s Marion home.
Soon after Marie’s Ladies’ Home Journal success, Doubleday, Page & Co. hired her to write the first book of quilting history. Marie researched how quiltmaking had originated in ancient Egypt, how it developed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and how important it was to the American experience. She also described the techniques of making quilts, prepared a list of over 400 pattern names, and provided over 50 photographs of quilts as illustrations.
Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them was published in 1915. It received an overwhelming response. Marie received numerous letters from quilt collectors, antique dealers, interior designers and home quilters.
The book also led Marie to don a Colonial-style gown and lecture on quilt history throughout the country, showing quilts from her own collection. Several of her friends went with her, also wearing period costumes as they demonstrated quilting techniques.
After Marie’s husband died in 1938, she closed her business, sold her home in 1942 and moved to Princeton, New Jersey to be closer to Lawrence and his family. The house was converted into apartments. Later, it was remodeled and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It has also been designated a Landmark of Women’s History and declared a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the house is the home of The Quilters Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1979 to celebrate quilting as an art form. Three days a week, visitors are welcome to tour galleries on the first and second floors that show rotating quilt displays.
Marie’s quilting studio is furnished with some of her furniture, perfume bottles, clothing, accessories, sewing tools, and photographs.
A gift shop carries books, patterns and annual collectible pins with designs inspired by Marie’s quilts; Quiltsmart fusible appliqués of her “American Beauty Rose” and “May Tulips” designs; fabric based on Marie’s quilts; and items hand-made by members of the local Marie Webster Quilt Guild.
For more on Marie Webster, see A Joy Forever: Marie Webster’s Quilt Patterns, by Rosalind Webster Perry and Marty Frolli; “Marie Webster: Early-Twentieth-Century Quilt Designer,” an article by Susan Wildemuth in the September/October 2007 issue of PieceWork; and “Marie Webster, Marion’s Master Quilter,” by Rosalind Webster Perry (Marie’s granddaughter), in the Spring 1991 issue of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Perry also founded Practical Patchwork, a business that offers Webster’s quilt designs. The house’s National Register nomination is another good source of information about Marie and her home. Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them is still available, after seven reprints.
Museums recognize Marie Webster’s legacy by collecting quilts that she either designed or made. The Ohio History Connection’s collection includes a “French Baskets with Scroll Block” quilt designed by Marie Webster and made by Doris Edith Allen circa 1945 (H 90314). A Joy Forever: Marie Webster Quilts is an exhibition that will be on view from March 4, 2016 through January 8, 2017 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which holds the largest collection of Marie’s quilts in the United States. It will display 25 appliquéd quilts that Marie designed and made between 1909 and 1930; quilt patterns; several pages from Ladies Home Journal; and one of Marie’s scrapbooks.
While in Marion, stop by 410 S. McClure St., the site where movie star James Dean was born. Have a weekday lunch and browse through a resale consignment shop and boutique at the Hostess House, located at 723 W. Fourth St. This elegant home was designed in 1912 by Samuel Plato, an African-American architect and contractor, and is a place Marion women have used to entertain outside their homes since the 1940s.
Take a walk at Matter Park, located on the north side of Marion on 110 acres along the Mississinewa River. Rabbit topiaries, a butterfly garden, a quilt garden and numerous sculptures are among the park’s main features. Its extensive and effective use of Proven Winners plants led it to be designated as one of seven Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the United States. A quilt garden replicates the design of the Quilters Hall of Fame’s annual honoree.
And drive part of the “Garfield Trail,” honoring Grant County, Indiana native Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip. Unique five-foot-tall statues depict the famous cat “pawsing” for thought in a massive pawprint behind the Community Foundation of Grant County, and posing as a doctor in front of Marion General Hospital and as a “duffer” at Arbor Trace Golf Club.