The Mystery, The Pageant

posted in: Art 15
Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes, ca. 1850. Amon Carter Museum, 1999. Image: Wikipedia.



A quilt-world friend with a sizable internet presence told me recently, “The project I’m working on is under wraps for now, so on social media I’m not saying where I am or what I’m doing and my mom said, ‘You’re as mysterious as Mary Fons!'”

I probably don’t need to tell you how much I relished this. I hotdog relished it. Me, mysterious? A woman with a sock monkey mascot? A woman who still doesn’t have a new dishwasher? Fabulous!

I could understand the perception, though. I blog on the ol’ PG and am not always forthcoming about where I am and what I’m doing, not because I don’t want you to know; in fact, I desperately want you to know. I want you to know where I’m going for Quiltfolk magazine; I want you to know where the next Quiltfolk pattern is coming from; I want you to know about this other quilt-world project I have going that I can’t talk about, yet, but which is major.

But I can’t tell you everything because there is an order to things. I didn’t make the order. I make the content, the world makes the order. So, I tell you things as I can and hope you’ll stay until everything becomes clear.

Here’s what I can tell you:

I have come to upstate New York. I am near Syracuse. I have come here for a solid week to research and gather information from one of the most important living players in American quilt history. The reason we have set aside an entire a week is because a) I have a full-time job as editor in chief of a magazine and have many responsibilities from day to day which require my attention; b) it’s summer and everyone/everything is slow; and c) there’s so much to dive into with this person, we really need a year, not a week.

Here’s what else I can tell you:

I have been going through hundreds and hundreds of photographs, tin types, daguerrotypes, prints, and photos, all of which feature people and their quilts. That’s what this person has, among many other objects: He has photographs of people and quilts, starting in 1850, when photography became “a thing,” to around 1950. I’ve cried several times. I gasped, looking through the stacks, the boxes, the treasure. Put another way, I spent a day looking at humanity in photographs and stereoscope images and what I can tell you is that nothing has changed. We are the same. Humans are the same today as we ever were.

Sure, we have laptops now. We have polymers. We have the internet. We have blenders and vaccines but we also still have quilts. We still have families, cats, and dogs. Illness and death come to everyone and always has. Some of us have always mugged for the camera. There’s always been a person who blinked in a picture. We didn’t invent selfies in the 21st century; there are just more of them now and we can take them faster.

Being human is complicated, but today, I don’t think it’s so mysterious.

15 Responses

  1. Richard Stofer
    | Reply

    Mary Mary Mary,
    mysterious, traveler Mary.

    With your entry today you have reminded me of, not how cool you are, but of how cool photography is.
    Recalling college days and how extremely difficult my history of photography class was. So many types of photo processing. So many photographers,and so many people around the world experimenting with the new found “science ” of capturing a moment in time.

    As you hinted, people are the same but the process has changed dramatically. Thru science, experimentation, and pure drive, pictures still captures the soul of the person being photographed.
    That’s kinda my point, the soul.
    Your emotions are normal because you are seeing these people as they really were. Happy,sad, proud, unlucky, triumphant, all these emotions are captured.

    The soul. Documentation of the soul.
    A window in time displayed for you.
    Im jealous of your access to these treasures.
    Im sure the quilts are cool as well.
    Be safe and keep sharing.

  2. Gerrilyn Burchwell
    | Reply

    I look forward to all the information, stories and culture that Quiltfolk bring to us. So thank you for the mystery, it makes it more like Christmas when we get our issue.

  3. Cathy Melancon
    | Reply

    Thnks for the glimpse into what you have been doing. I can only imagine how special it was to look thru those old photos. I love reading your blog posts, Mary, you woman of mystery!!!!

  4. Amy Spungen
    | Reply


  5. Jean
    | Reply

    Keep up the spirit Mary! Your words are wonderful, I love your life stories, also your emotions behind them! Thank you!
    See you in September as “they” say.

  6. Nancy Binder
    | Reply

    As a collector of quilt related images, I can’t wait to hear more!!

  7. Trudy Cleveland
    | Reply

    Wow! Just for “fun” This summer I took an online college course on the “History of Photography” .
    Has nothing to do with quilting.. but what the heck.. then I read your post.. and the two subjects intersected… Amazing

  8. KimS
    | Reply

    You are so right Mary, people have not changed. I am spending time with my 2 siblings going through my parents (now gone) many pictures and keepsakes. Postcards are akin to our texting today. Pictures documented the times of their lives. If you look past the clothes, cars, and technology, the people were doing the same things as today. Humanity is timeless, the good, the bad and the ugly.

  9. Trudy Cleveland
    | Reply

    Wow! Just completed an online course on “History of Photography”. I grumbled when I was spending time on this “fun” class.. when I wanted to be quilting! Then I read your article.. and I knew what you were talking about! I love it when Photography and Quilting intersect.. Finished my online class with a paper comparing “carte de visite” and social media.. And included quilting!
    Nailed it!

  10. Irene
    | Reply

    Quilts……..stories told through the eyes of the soul. Loved your article.

  11. Donette Kurtz
    | Reply

    Sounds like you are with Ken Burns. I could spend a year with him he is a walking history book. He is easy on the eyes too. Hehe

  12. Sarah Pegg
    | Reply

    LOVE what Richard said. Thank you.

  13. Martha D Calderwood
    | Reply

    Cross-dressers? Wanna-be trans? Or just a confusing label on the photo? Very graceful individuals, whatever.

  14. Richard Stofer
    | Reply

    Its ALL Mary’s fault. If she wasn’t such a talented wordsmith, a relentless traveler, an informer,then our eyes on the quilt mafia world would be shut.
    Plus, none of us wanna read someone else’s boring blog about cats or bacon or some random dance craze. Mary makes us think, remember, and look up words.
    Luddite. Right?

  15. Ginny
    | Reply

    Mary – I am SOOOO excited! I finally subscribed to Quiltfolk! I am waiting with baited breath for my first issue!!! Ginny

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *