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Mabel E. Murphy

May 6, 1907 - May 31, 2002

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Mabel Murphy made quilting an integral part of her daily life and taught the skill to hundreds of women. She never received any compensation for this service or sold any of her quilts. Photograph by Jerry Baumeister, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Mabel Murphy seated in front of one of her quilts called 'A Square in a Square,' Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Mabel and Clark Murphy, her husband of sixty-seven years, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Dresden Plate' quilt, Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
'Dresden Plate' quilt by Mabel Murphy, cotton, appliqué, 117" x 86", 1980, photograph by Michel Monteaux, courtesy Museum of International Folk Art (a unit of the Museum of New Mexico)
Mabel Murphy (left) and her quilting group,  Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Quilts by Mabel Murphy, top row: Four Patch, Dresden Plate, Rosy Wreath, Grandmother's Flower Garden, Red Maple Leaf; bottom row: Baby Flower Garden, Trip Around the World (Mapping Quilt) and Tumbling Block, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Rainbow' quilt, Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's  'Dresden Heart Quilt,' 'the only non-traditional quilt Mabel Murphy pieced.' Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Amish quilt — put together as the diagonal stripe. She used the dark colors.' Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke
"This is her 'Scarlet Maple' quilt. She had a lesson in nature when she made this quilt. She gathered leaves and matched them to her fabric. When picking up the leaves, she noticed that the stems were the same color as the leaves. She said through all her years of scouting and gardening, she had never noticed that. When her quilts were on display in the Art Gallery of William Woods College, people voted as to which of the 40 quilts on display were their favorites. The 'Scarlet Maple' was the winner." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Mabel Murphy's 'Bow Tie' quilt.  She made bow tie quilts for all the grandsons in the family and presented it them when they were 21 years of age. Her grandson-in-law was also a recipient. All the fabrics used in the quilt were given to her by a schoolteacher in Fulton, Missouri, who was going to throw away all her gingham fabrics when she thought 'how wasteful' and 'maybe Mabel could use them.' She called Mother, and Daddy picked up the fabric and she made good use of all the fabrics." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"This quilt was made from scraps from her daughters' little-girl dresses. Mother said that every dress had a name, and the only one that she could remember was a dress named 'Peter Punk.' Many of them were made from feed sacks." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Wedding Ring' quilts were made for all the grandchildren and presented at the time of their marriage. Each one was set together with a different color. This one was done for her grandson, Jerry, set together with red." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Tumbling Block' pattern was done for two of her grandchildren. They were both done in blue, and each grandchild has two, as they were done for twin beds. My understanding is that quilts are more valuable if you have a pair." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"This is a quilt Mabel Murphy was inspired to make called her 'President Harry Truman Quilt.' One day she had to ask Daddy to go to the post office to get some stamps. Upon his return, he had a sheet of Harry Truman stamps. She looked at the sheet of stamps and said to herself, 'I can make a quilt like that.' She took her measurements of a stamp and created her own 'Truman Quilt.' In between each block she has a white strip. making it look like a sheet of stamps." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"This is one of the two quilts she took to Washington, D.C., called 'Trip Around the World.' It is colorful and beautiful. Quilting it in red makes it truly spectacular." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter holding her mother's 'Trip Around the World' quilt, Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
Mabel Murphy's 'Trip Around the World' quilt, Fulton, Missouri, photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"This is a 'Log Cabin' quilt (detail) put together in crosses. She renamed it the 'Great Crossing,' and it is the only quilt she ever made specifically to give to Daddy (of course, all the quilts were his as well as hers). The reason being they had attended the 200th year of the Great Crossing Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, where Daddy's great-great-grandfather Suggett had preached from 1810-1822 before moving to Missouri to become a missionary." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"This is the only non-traditional quilt she ever did.  It is called a 'Dresden Heart.' Her daughter saw it in Kansas City at a quilt shop, and she and Mabel went to Kansas City, bought the pattern, and Mabel put it together for her." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Mabel piecing one of the blocks for her 'Baby Flower Garden' quilt." Comments and photograph by Pat O' Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Dresden Plate' quilt, Fulton, Missouri, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
"One morning while washing dishes Mabel looked at the plate she was washing. She noticed the colors and remembered the dark fabrics she had put in a box for future use. She thought to herself, 'I do believe they will match this plate.' They matched, and she created a 'Dresden Plate' quilt, the same color as her dishes." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"An 'Irish Chain' has been given to each of her children. This is a soft gray-green one, and the others are a very deep blue green." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Grandmother's Flower Garden' quilt. This is probably one of the most delicate and beautiful quilts she has made. The pinks are spectacular, and it truly takes your breath away. She calls it her 'Baby Flower Garden' because the finished pieces are the size of a dime." Comments and photograph by Pat O' Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Rainbow Quilt' was an inspiration that came to Mabel one day while reading her Bible. She was reading in the book of Genesis when she thought to her herself, 'There is nothing more beautiful than the rainbow and God's promise. If I use three rows of each color of the rainbow: red, yellow, orange, blue, green indigo and violet, I can make a Rainbow Quilt.' So, she did — upon graduation from college each of her grandchildren received a rainbow quilt. This is one of the two quilts she took to Washington, D.C., with her when receiving the National Heritage Fellowship." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Mabel in front of her 'Rainbow Quilt.''' Comment and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Square in a Square' quilt, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter, holding her mother's 'Log Cabin' quilt, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
"'Fifty Points of Light' quilt, presented to President and Mrs. Bush — made by 50 women in the United States. Mabel's quilt block is the Missouri Dogwood." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Quilt piece pieced by Mabel Murphy for the 'Fifty Points of Light' quilt presented to President Bush. She took her pattern from the Missouri Samplings Book White Dogwood. Book was compiled by Mavis Mitzel. It was from the *Kansas City Star* newspaper — dating back to the 1930s, she believes."Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"The 'Tulip' pattern was pieced and quilted by Mabel Murphy's stepmother, Nancy Stahlings." Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Four Patch' quilt by Mabel Murphy. The first quilt Mabel pieced was a four patch at the age of 8. All the neighbor ladies buggied in and helped quilt it. This is not her original, but she has made several four patches through the years. However, the pieces in this quilt are pieces dating back to the 1930s. She has saved every scrap of fabric for future use. For a beginning quilter she recommends this pattern, as it is a simpler one to piece." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Four Patch"quilt (detail) by Mabel Murphy, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Display of Mabel Murphy's quilts for Heritage Days in Fulton, Missouri, October 2000, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Baby Flower Garden" pieced in all shades of light blue. Shown are Betty Hardin and Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter (standing). This quilt belongs to W.D. Murphy, Mabel's son, courtesy Pat O'Rourke
"Log Cabin" quilt shown by Clark Murphy, Mabel's husband, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Log Cabin" quilt (detail) set together in straight furrows, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Fan quilts in shades of burgundy. Mabel has made this in shades of blue as well as one using light beige and cream. There is a butterfly quilted into each square." Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Fan" quilt (detail) by Mabel Murphy, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Mabel Murphy working on a 'Diagonal Stripe' quilt. Fabric was given to her one year for her birthday by her Thursday morning quilt group." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Summer Maple Leaf' quilt by Mabel Murphy. She had a lesson in kind when doing the 'Maple Leaf.' She would gather the leaves and match the fabric. One day she noticed the stems were the color of the leaves, so she always made her stems the color of the leaves." Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"Summer Maple Leaf" quilt (detail) by Mabel Murphy, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
"'Nine Patch' quilt made in shades of pink and green. Miss Shirley Dunavant, a schoolteacher in Fulton, was getting ready to throw some of her fabrics away when she called Mabel. With all these fabrics she pieced two nine patches as shown and made a variety of bow ties for the boys in the family when they reached the age of 19." Comments and photograph by Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
'Nine Patch' (detail) by Mabel Murphy, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
'Tablecloth (detail) pieced by Mabel Murphy's Thursday morning quilters and quilted by them. They used Mabel's quilting frame.' Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
'Tablecloth (detail) pieced by Mabel Murphy's Thursday morning quilters and quilted by them. They used Mabel's quilting frame.' Comments and photograph courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter
Mabel Murphy putting the binding on her 'Rainbow' quilt, courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel's Murphy's daughter
Mabel Murphy signed and dated each of her quilts. Courtesy Pat O'Rourke, Mabel Murphy's daughter

Mabel Murphy was a native of Callaway County, in the agricultural heartland of Missouri. She began school at age 6 in a one-room schoolhouse that served children in the area from first through eighth grades. When she was 8 years old, she pieced her first quilt top — a Four Patch pattern, the standard design usually taught to children in those days. Following instructions from her mother, Murphy set the blocks, each four squares of freely selected variegated material, into a checkerboard pattern, stitching them together with nine stitches to the inch. When all the blocks of four had been joined into a single large square, Murphy's mother and a neighbor helped her to quilt the completed top.

From then on, Murphy made quilting an integral part of her daily life — through her years in school and later as a homemaker, a mother and a public-spirited citizen of her community. She made more than one hundred quilts, all in the same basic style. After deciding on the general idea of the quilt she wanted to make, she selected the design and the materials needed and then started the process of piecing the quilt together. When that was completed, she usually called in her neighbors and friends to help with the lengthy job of quilting. Each finished quilt is a kind of map of the social relationships that created it, between the individual artist and the supporting family or community.

Murphy taught hundreds of women to quilt and opened her home every Thursday and Friday mornings to quilting circles for many years. She never received any compensation for her services or advice, nor did she ever sell one of her completed quilts. She said she made them to give away to her children and grandchildren. Each received a quilt upon graduation from college. When the boys in the family turned 19, she gave each of them a Bow Tie quilt to signify their attainment of manhood. Each child and grandchild also received two matching quilts upon his or her wedding day.

Murphy's Thursday morning quilting group made numerous quilts as donations for community causes; some were used in fundraising auctions for the local hospital or colleges. Murphy's neighbors supported and encouraged her work. To show their appreciation, they organized a local exhibition, entitled "A Lifetime of Love," featuring forty-one of her most cherished quilts. In explaining her motivations for spending so much of her time quilting, Murphy said, " I just don't like to sit and hold my hands."

Bibliography
Congdon, Kristin G., and Kara Kelley. American Folk Art: A Regional Reference, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2012, Page 424. https://books.google.com/books?id=MYUuFDEHmlsC&pg=PA424&lpg=PA424&dq=mabel+murphy+pat+o%27rourke&source=bl&ots=jxnXldQ5u1&sig=FBSoMOyZTgRYYIfyxJbI1TIMSz0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CC8Q6AEwA2oVChMIhpjC8vCmxwIVCViSCh3uDgAr#v=onepage&q=mabel%20murphy%20pat%20o%27rourke&f=false
Everts-Boehm, Dana. "Center Programs Play Key Role in 25th Anniversary of Missouri Arts Council." In
Tradition (University of Missouri Cultural Heritage Center, fall 1990): 7.
Hunt, Marjorie, and Boris Weintraub. "Masters of Traditional Arts."
National Geographic (January 1991) 179, 1.
Milacek, Barbara. "Times Have Changed, But Art of Quilting Has Not."
Independent, Marshall, Minnesota (April 28, 1979).
"Patchwork and Paint."
The Entertainer (November 3-9, 1991).
Roberson, Margot. "The Meetin' Place."
Quilter's Newsletter Magazine* (January 1985).

Watch

Mabel Murphy interviewed by Charles Kurait, 1989 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Mabel Murphy home video, 'Quilt Show at Home,' March, 1992


Listen

Mabel Murphy, Recorded live at the 1989 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts