[Graphic Header] National Register of Historic Places Preservation Month May 2005, Restore America: Communities at a Crossroads
Marie Webster House

National Register name - Webster, George, Jr. and Marie Daugherty, House

Marie Webster House
Photograph courtesy of the The Quilters Hall of Fame in the Historic Marie Webster House.

The house at 926 South Washington Street in Marion, Indiana, is historically important because of its association with Marie Webster (1859-1956), a master of quilting and a noted advocate of this artistic craft. Marie Webster made quilts during the first half of the 20th century, and represents a shift from the traditional designs to modern designs inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement. She also wrote the path breaking book  Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them, which was the first book solely dedicated to the history of the quilt. This book went through numerous editions; it is still in print today and is cited as a major work of quilt history. Webster also revolutionized the production of quilts by forming the Practical Patchwork Company which sold patterns, quilt kits, and even finished quilts. By publishing her designs in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, she made her quilts and design patterns accessible to a wide audience. Prior to Webster, most quilt patterns were passed down from generation to generation and were of a regional nature. In 1991 Webster became the subject of museum exhibits on quilting, beginning with the Indianapolis Museum of Art and moving on in 1993 to the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City in 1993. Another exhibit would tour 4 cities in Japan in 1998.

[photo] Marie Webster House
Photograph courtesy of the The Quilters Hall of Fame in the Historic Marie Webster House.

Marie Webster lived in the house at 926 South Washington Street from 1902 until 1942, the span of time in which she was quilting. She did not take up quilting until 1909, and did all her needlework in this house. The headquarters of the Practical Patchwork Company was also located in this house, in a sunny room on the second floor now restored to reflect its previous use. This room was in continuous use for
quilt-related business from 1921-1942. Her landmark book, Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them, was written while she lived in this house and first published in 1915. When Marie Webster moved out of this house in 1942, she disbanded the Practical Patchwork Company and ceased to make any more quilts. Thus, it is this house that is more closely associated with Marie Webster’s career as a quilter.
The history of American quilting dates to the first European settlers in the American colonies, although quilts were quite expensive and rare until after the colonial period. Drawing on European traditions of appliqué, embroidery and quilting, settlers in America set about creating their own individual style of American quilts. As quilting became more popular after the Revolutionary War, quilting became a social and practical event. By the mid-19th century, a wide variety of textiles became available due to machine spinning and weaving, and cotton cloth and thread were more affordable. Quilting played a significant role in many American women’s lives in the mid-to
late-19th and early 20th century. Young girls learned patchwork at home and school, and, as they grew older and more skilled, they participated in the traditional quilting bee. Friends would get together and create a square for the quilt, or each autograph one of a group of identical squares. One quilt fad was the Crazy Quilt, popular in the late Victorian age. In these quilts, a variety of fabrics—often velvet, silk and brocade scraps or other articles of clothing — were randomly pieced together and then embellished with elaborate embroidery stitches to make a whole cloth quilt or irregular design.

Marie Webster House before restoration
Photograph courtesy of the The Quilters Hall of Fame in the Historic Marie Webster House.

By the beginning of the 20th century, a new movement, known as Arts and Crafts, was becoming popular. The Arts and Crafts Movement was inspired by the writings of British art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), who, along with other ideas of crafts (William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites), created a movement that idealized the craftsperson. It is notable that both Ruskin and Morris harkened back to the architecture and techniques of the medieval European world, before industrialization, Ruskin admiring the Gothic cathedrals of what he referred to as a more spiritual civilization. The Arts and Crafts Movement was at its height in Britain, the United States and Canada from 1880 to 1910. Designers, architects, and artists were advocating a departure from Victorian excesses and industrialization. These artists sought an alternative, and designed simple, well-crafted houses, furniture and other items of the decorative arts. Fabric, embroidery, and textile design were significant aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement; Candace Wheeler’s skill and involvement with Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Associated Artists is one superb example. Marie Webster adopted this textile tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement, and designed artistic, modern quilts that subscribed to the Arts and Crafts ideal of high quality crafted objects.

[photo] Marie Webster
Photograph courtesy of the The Quilters Hall of Fame in the Historic Marie Webster House.

Marie Webster was born in 1859 in a small town in rural northern Indiana. She attended local public schools, and graduated at the top of her high school class. She was eager to go on to college but due to health concerns was dissuaded by her family.She married a successful businessman, George Webster, in 1884, and following an extended honeymoon the couple settled in Chicago. A few years later, the Webster’s moved to George’s home town of Marion, Indiana, a manufacturing center. George was a banker, and the couple traveled to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and to Europe in 1899. Marie Webster’s main pastime was sewing and needlework. She had been embroidering household linens since she was a child, but did not make her first quilt until 1909, when she was 50 years old. Becoming a quilt enthusiast, she found the popular geometric pieced quilts not to her liking, and so applied her own patterns. At the turn of the century, Ladies Home Journal was interested in promoting Arts and Crafts ideals. Frank Lloyd Wright, among other American notables, created designs for the magazine. In the January 1, 1911 issue, Editor Edward Bok featured four full-color quilt designs of the amateur Marie Webster. With a circulation of over 1.5 million readers, the magazine made Marie Webster a household name. Readers wrote her for patterns. Within one month of the Ladies Home Journal publication, Webster was selling her quilt patterns for 50 cents. Her fame spreading, the New York publisher Doubleday, page & Co. invited Marie Webster to write a book on the history of quilting. Tracing the history back to ancient Egypt and up to America, Webster completed the book, which was published in 1915 as Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them.

Quilt patterns from Marie Webster's book Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them

In 1921 she formed, with two friends, The Practical Patchwork Company, and her manufacture of quilt patterns evolved into a true cottage industry. She was in demand as a speaker and a judge of quilting contests, but by 1930, at the age of 70, she no longer created any new quilt designs, although she still ran her company. In 1942, Marie Webster retired, and moved with her son and his family to New Jersey. Marie Webster died in 1956 at the age of 97.

Located four blocks south of downtown Marion, the Webster House is a two-story, gambrel-roofed rectangular home. A two-story, gabled bay projects from the southwest corner of the main wing, and a one-story, hip-roofed kitchen wing extends behind the end bay of the main wing. A two-story, flat-roofed polygonal bay is attached to the west of the main of the north wall of the main wing. The Webster House was rehabilitated, as part of the process, the house was examined by Consulting Restoration Architect Craig Leonard of Bluffton, Indiana. With minor exceptions, he confirmed the findings of Paul. C. Diebold, Historian for the State Historic Preservation Office of Indiana. Diebold’s conclusions are that the material and workmanship, and design of the house, are substantially intact; that the modest changes in the original house were made by Webster and are, therefore, historic; and that the subsequent changes are minor.

The Marie Webster House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 17, 1992. The property was designated a National Hsitoric Landmark in 1993 and opened as a museum and the headquarters of The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2004 following full restoration.

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