Mary Porter Borkowski

MARY BORKOWSKI was born in southeastern Ohio in 1916. She made her first quilt in 1930 and has been quilting ever since. Some 80 quilts later, she is nationally recognized as a true folk artist whose medium is needle and thread. A Dayton resident since the 1930s, Borkowski is renowned for inventive original designs-she’s sold quilt patterns to McCall’s and other magazines-and peerless technique. Borkowski’s quilts, which often commemorated historical events or personalities, won grand prizes at the Ohio State Fair in 1952 and 1955. In the late 1950s, she set out to make the “perfect quilt.” The result was The Pride of Ohio, celebrating John Glenn’s orbit of the earth, which took top honors at the Ohio State Fair in 1962. Like the best folk artists, Borkowski has both borrowed from tradition and added her own innovations. Her singular contribution to traditional fiber arts is the body of 110 “thread paintings” she’s done since 1965. These works, an outgrowth of the narrative aspect of her quilts, are done on silk, felt or velvet backgrounds and use silk thread and yarn. The subject matter is generally drawn from events in Borkowski’s life, though what she calls her “string pictures” can also be surreal and strange. The effect resembles embroidery, but with more depth and texture. Borkowski’s quilts and “thread paintings” are in several major collections and museums, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of American Folk Art and the Dayton Art Institute.

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