Curator of Folk Arts, MSU Museum
Professor, Department of Art and Art History
MacDowell’s work is centered in the study of the production, use and meaning of traditional material culture. This inquiry is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture informed by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies. Special interests include critical examination of the role of museums in contemporary society; development of educational resources and public arts policies related to traditional arts; and development of strategies to make collected data accessible online and then to create tools to engage individuals in using these online collections for research and education. She has been particularly interested in developing research projects in collaboration with representatives of the communities and cultural groups and in being engaged in projects that have a positive impact on identified societal needs. As coordinator since 1984 of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a statewide partnership between the MSU Museum and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs) she has led or collaborated on many research, documentation, collection development, exhibition, publication, and education activities focused on Michigan’s traditional cultural heritage. In addition to this Michigan based and focused work, she has also been deeply engaged in projects of regional, national and international scope. She is the director of the Quilt Index (www.quiltindex.org), a digital repository of stories, images, and other data related to quilts, quilt artists, and quiltmaking from dispersed private and publication collections around the world. Current research projects include a history of South Africa quiltmaking; traditions of patchwork covers in China; quilts and health; the history and meaning of lau hala in Hawaiian cultural history; and the intersection of ethnography and museums in a digital age. Past studies have included ones on historical and contemporary Great Lakes Native quilting, quillwork, and basketmaking traditions; the impact of the 1930s-era The Detroit News Quilt Show and WWJ radio quilt show on quiltmaking in Michigan; the development of Native basketmaking organizations in the U.S.; identification and oral history documentation of key leaders of the late 20th-century quilt revival in the U.S.; and oral history in a digital age. These efforts have resulted in publications, exhibitions, online digital resources, festival programs, and educational programs and curriculum materials. They have also resulted in building unique new collections at the MSU Museum and strengthening older collections. MacDowell was founding editor of H-Quilts, founding and current board member of The Alliance for American Quilts, a past-president of The American Quilt Study Group, , a core founding and core faculty member of the Museum Studies Program at MSU, executive board member for the American Folklore Society, and member of the editorial board of the international journal Museum Anthropology. She is currently a member of the editorial board for Museum Anthropology Review. MacDowell is also a co-founder of the MSU Museum Studies Program and serves as one of its core faculty members and as the program’s ENews editor and coordinator of internships.
Books and catalogues
Selected articles and book chapters since 2006
Selected Exhibitions (since 2006)
Ph.D., Education, Michigan State University, 1982 M.F.A., Studio Art, Michigan State University, 1974