Michigan State University

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Marsha MacDowell

Marsha MacDowell
Curator, Folk Arts and Quilt Studies
(517) 290-5195

Curator of Folk Arts and Quilt Studies, MSU Museum
Professor, Department of Art and Art History
Director, The Quilt Index and the Michigan Stained Glass Census, Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences
Director, Michigan Traditional Arts Program, Residential College of Arts and Humanities


Research Interests/Experience

MacDowell’s work, as a publicly engaged scholar, is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture and is informed primarily by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies. She describes herself as a folklorist/educator/art historian/curator. The overwhelmingly majority of her work has, by design and philosophy, been developed and implemented in collaboration with representatives of the communities affiliated with the foci of projects.

For many years, her work has been largely focused on: documentation and analysis of the production, meaning, and use of traditional material culture (especially that of Hmong-Americans, Native Americans, South Africans, and women and more recently Chinese); community-engaged museum work; educational resources related to traditional arts and community-based knowledge; and innovative ways, including digital repositories, to increase access to and use of traditional arts materials.

Research projects as of 2020 include a history of South Africa quiltmaking and related textiles; quilts, health, healing, and well-being (especially in the time of COVID); porcupine quillwork art in the Great Lakes region (in partnership with the Ziibiwing Center for Anishinaabe Lifeways and Culture); revisions of the FOLKPATTERNS educational materials (with Michigan 4-H); Ubuntu: Museums and Communities Connect (with a number of U.S. and South African partners); revision of the exhibition Dear Mrs Parks, Dear Mr Mandela: Childrens’ Letters, Global Lessons (with the Nelson Mandela Museum); and continuing work on The Quilt Index and Michigan Stained Glass Census.

As director of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (http://traditionalarts.msu.edu), based at the MSU Museum from 1975-2019, she led or collaborated on research, documentation, collection development, exhibition, publication, festival, and education activities focused on “advancing cross-cultural understanding and equity in a diverse society through the documentation, preservation, and presentation of traditional arts, folklife, and everyday culture in Michigan.” Ongoing projects, now headquartered at the MSU Residential College of Arts and Humanities, include the Michigan Heritage Awards Program, Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Michigan Quilt Project, Will to Adorn, Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives, and the Michigan Stained Glass Census. The MSU Museum continues to house the collection of fieldwork resulting from research activities as well as objects affiliated with these programs.

She has led or co-led multiple strategies to make the objects, fieldwork and records affiliated with the folk arts and quilt collections more widely known and to engage others in using these collections for research and teaching. Outcomes from these efforts have resulted in a variety of digital humanities resources and an affiliation of the Michigan Traditional Arts Research Collections with the National Folklife Archive Initiative http://www.folklorecollections.org), the Michigan Stained Glass Census (www.michiganstainedglass.org), and the Quilt Index (www.quiltindex.org), a repository of data, images, and stories about over 80,000 quilts and their makers from from public and private collections around the world. The Quilt Index contains the records and images of the Michigan Quilt Project and the quilts in the Michigan State University Museum collection.

MacDowell has also been engaged in development of many museum-based educational resources and programs. Major initiatives included Michigan Voices (with the Michigan Council for the Humanities), FOLKPATTERNS (with Michigan 4-H Youth Programs), and the national Folk Arts in Education (www.folkartsineducation) project.

In addition to this Michigan based and focused work, she has also been deeply engaged in projects of regional, national and international scope.

Under her leadership, the MSU Museum has developed one of the world’s finest collections of quilts and quilt history, with special emphasis on regions and cultures (Michigan, Native American, African American, and African); quilts and human rights; and quilts and health. She continues to work closely with groups like the Women of Color Network and the Great Lakes African American Quilt Network to strengthen the collections and the expand the use of these collections in research and teaching. She continues to also build the collections of folk and traditional cultural materials, both those of Michigan and those affiliated with her research projects.

MacDowell was founding editor of H-Quilts, founding board member of The Alliance for American Quilts, president of The American Quilt Study Group, executive board member for the American Folklore Society, board member of the Michigan 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 and the Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan. MacDowell was a co-founder of the MSU Museum Studies Program and served for many years as one of its core faculty members.

Selected Publications (since 2010)

Books and catalogues

• MacDowell, Marsha, Clare Luz, and Beth Donaldson. 2017. Quilts and Health. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
• MacDowell, Marsha and Aleia Brown. 2016. Ubuntutu: Life Legacies of Peace and Action: Quilt Tributes to Desmond and Leah Tutu. East Lansing, MI: MSU Museum and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation.
• Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, Mary Worrall, and Beth Donaldson, Quilts and Human Rights, University of Nebraska Press, 2016.
• MacDowell, Marsha and Lijun Zhang (eds). 2016. Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning, China: Guangxi Nationalities Museum. [NOTE: It is bilingual in Chinese and English]
• O’Neill, Lia Keawe, Marsha MacDowell, and C. Kurt Dewhurst, eds.`Ike Ulana Lau Hala. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2014.
• MacDowell, Marsha and Carolyn Mazloomi, eds. Conscience of the Spirit: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela, Tributes by American and South African Quilt Artists. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum, 2014.
• Wells, Kate, Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, and Marit Dewhurst. 2012. Siyazama: Traditional Arts, AIDS, and Education in South Africa. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of KwaZulu Natal Press.

Articles and book chapters

• MacDowell, Marsha. 2020. “The Teal Quilt Project: A community-engaged arts project for healing,” Journal of Arts and Communities. Vol. 10, Nos. 3-4, 1 October 2020
• MacDowell, Marsha. 2020. "Quilts: Unfolding Personal and Public Histories in South Africa and the United States,” Image & Text (Special issue on Material Narratives), Vol. 34, No. 2
• MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst, 2019. “American Folk Art and Crafts” in Simon Bronner, ed. Oxford Handbook of American Folklore and Folklife Studies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, pp 396-424. [online version published in 2018] http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190840617.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780190840617
• Howard, Heather, Laura Smith, Judy Pierzynowski, and Marsha MacDowell, 2019. “Indigenous Makers and the Animation of Material Narratives,” in Viv Golding and Jenny Walklate, eds. Museums and Communities: Diversity, Dialogue and Collaboration in an Age of Migrations. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp 290-307.
• Luz, Clare C. and Marsha MacDowell, Marsha. 2018 “Quilts and Aging,” pp. 138-152 in Jon Kay, editor. The Expressive Lives of Elders: Folklore, Art, and Aging. Indiana University Press.
• Marsha MacDowell, 2017. “Reflections on bi-national collaborations: The Quilts of Southwest China project,” in Juwen Zhang, ed. Metafolklore in the Communication between American and Chinese Folklorists. Guangzhou, China: Sun Yat-sen University Press.
• Jackson, Jason Baird and Marsha MacDowell, 2016. “Ethnography, Museums, and the Digital Age” in Seeman, Hall, and Dewhurst, eds, Folklife and Museums: 21st Century Perspectives. Rowan and Littlefield Press.
• Dewhurst, C. Kurt and Marsha MacDowell, 2016. Preface, Curatorial Conversations: Cultural Representation and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Olivia Cadaval, Sojin Kim, and Diana Baird N’Diaye (eds.). Oxford: University of Mississippi Press, pp. 3-10.
• MacDowell, Marsha and C. Kurt Dewhurst. 2016. “Michigan Traditional Arts Program at Michigan State University Museum and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,” Intersections: Folklore and Museum Education. Journal of Folklore and Education. Volume 3, pp. 119-126. http://locallearningnetwork.org/journal-of-folklore-and-education/current-and-past-issues/journal-of-folklore-and-education-volume-3-2016/
• Dewhurst, C. Kurt and Marsha MacDowell. 2015. “Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Museum-based International Collaborative Partnerships”. Practicing Anthropology. (Summer) Vol. 37. No 3, pp. 54-55.
• Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Diana Baird N’Diaye, and Marsha L. MacDowell, 2014. “Cultivating Connectivity: Moving Toward Inclusive Excellence in Museums”, Curator: The Museum Journal, Special Issue on Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Vol. 57, No. 4, pp. 1-18.
• Dewhurst, C. Kurt and Marsha MacDowell, 2013. “Going Public Through International Museum Partnerships.” In Hiram Fitzgerald, ed. Going Public. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, pp. 265-290.
• MacDowell, Marsha, Amanda Sikarskie, Justine Richardson, Mary Worrall. 2013. “Stitched Together: How and Why Historians Should Use Quilts from the Quilt Index in Their Scholarship”. Perspectives in History (Journal of the American Historical Studies Association)
• MacDowell, Marsha, Justine Richardson, Mary Worrall, Amanda Sikarskie, and Steve Cohen. 2013. “Quilted Together: How a Digital Repository of Thematic Collections is Enhancing Material Culture Pedagogy.” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 47, No. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn 2013), pp. 139-159.
• Dewhurst, Marit, Marsha MacDowell, Cherie Okada, Lia O'Neill M. A. Keawe, and Annette Kuuipolani Wong. 2013. “Ka ulana ‘ana i ka piko/ In weaving you begin at the center: Perspectives from a culturally specific approach to art education.” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 83:1, pp. 136-146
• MacDowell, Marsha, Mary Worrall, Amanda Sikarskie, and Justine Richardson. 2011. “The Quilt Index: From Preservation and Access to Co-Creation of Knowledge. New Directions in Folklore, Quiltmakers in the Digital Age Special Issue. Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 8-40. http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ndif/index
• MacDowell, Marsha. 2011. “New Directions in Creating and Using Folklife Collections in the United States.” Cultural Heritage (Guangdong, China: Institute of Chinese Intangible Heritage, Sun Yat-sen University), No. 1, pp 104-107.
• MacDowell, Marsha and Wolfgang Mieder. 2010. “When Life Hands Your Scraps, Make a Quilt": Quiltmakers and the Tradition of Proverbial Inscriptions," Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship 27:2010, pp. 113-172.
• MacDowell, Marsha. 2010. “South African Quiltmaking: Textiles in a Rainbow Nation,” Quilts Around the World. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, pp 294-299.

Selected Exhibitions (since 2006)

• 2019. Framing South Africa: Quilts and Photographs, RCAH Lookout Gallery, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan May 13-September 27, 2019 (Co-curator was Jessica Achberger Martin)
• 2019. Critical Lifelines: Portraits and Stories of Home Health Care Workers (Co-curators are Dr. Clare Luz, Katie Hanson, and Khalid Ibrahim), Broad Art Lab, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan April 3, 2019
• 2019. Quilts and Health component of Accessible Art, Broad Art Lab, East Lansing, Michigan. Week of April 8. [with the Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab, MSU RCPD, MSU English Department, MSU Studio Art, Exceptions Journal, etc.).
• 2018. Teal Quilt Project (Co-curators were Dr. Clare Luz, Beth Donaldson, Alex Brace, and Amanda Cormier), MSU Union Gallery, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. October 25-December 15, 2018
• 2014. Spirit of the Conscience: The Life of Nelson Mandela. Quilt Tributes by US and South African Artists. Michigan State University Museum and the Women of Color Quilters Network, First presented at International Quilt Conference Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 24-26. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Carolyn Mazloomi with Jenny Hearn)
• 2014. Ruby Bridges, Brown v Board of Education, and Greater Lansing Sites of Conscience. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Mary Worrall)
• 2014. Ralli Quilts, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson and Mary Worrall)
• 2013. Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of American Traditions. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Alan Govenar and Marsha MacDowell)
• 2013. Materializing Mandela. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
• 2012. The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st Century America. US Embassy, Beijing. (Curators: Theresa Hollingsworth, Katy Malone, Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
• 2012. Ruth Clement Bond: Quilt Art, Activism, and an Extraordinary African American Life. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Mary Worrall and Marsha MacDowell)
• 2010. Dear Mrs Parks: Dear Mr Mandela: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Noel Solani, and Khwezi Mpumlwana)
• 2009. Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, African American Quilt Scholar. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell and Mary Worrall)
• 2008. Dear Mrs Parks: Dear Mr Mandela: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons. Exhibition. Nelson Mandela Museum, Mthatha, South Africa. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Pumeza Mandela, Noel Solani, and Khwezi Mpumlwana)
• 2008. Quilts and Human Rights. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and Mary Worrall)
• 2007. Weaving History: A Basket Heritage Project. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and Kathleen Myers)
• 2006. Siyazama: AIDS, Traditional Arts, and Education in South Africa. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Marit Dewhurst, and Kate Wells)
• 2006. Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory. Exhibition. Michigan State University Museum. (Curators: MacDowell, Marsha MacDowell, Steve Zeitlin, and Ariel Zeitlin)
• 2006. Carriers of Culture: Native Basket Tradition Preview. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C. (Curators: Marsha MacDowell, Lynne Swanson, and C. Kurt Dewhurst)

Honors and Awards (since 2010)

2020. Benjamin Botkin Award, American Folklore Society
2017. University of Chicago Folklore Prize for Quilts and Human Rights (jointly with Lynne Swanson, Mary Worrall, and Beth Donaldson)
2017. Charles Gliozzo Award for International Public Diplomacy, MSU (jointly with C. Kurt Dewhurst)
2015. Fellow, American Folklore Society (one of two inducted that year)
2015. Community Partner Award, MSU College of Arts and Letters Alumni Association (for outstanding commitment to community engagement)


Ph.D., Education, Michigan State University, 1982 M.F.A., Studio Art, Michigan State University, 1974