Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Mary Woodward Davis



Honored May, 1987

Mary Woodard Davis

Born in Dewey Oklahoma, in 1901, when the region was still Indian territory, Mary Woodard Davis enjoyed a multifaceted career that took her to Broadway and Europe before bringing her to Santa Fe.

Whether designing sets with Cecil Beaton for My Fair Lady, teaching Turkish women to quilt, or creating commissioned pieces of her own textile art at age eighty-seven, she had no qualms about following her own direction wherever it led. "I've always been my own person, she said. "I've never been in one niche in life."

Mary's charmed path led her to careers in the New York theater as an actress, director, producer, costume and set designer, and theater owner; she also became a university professor and textile artist. During her career Mary worked with people as diverse as Marlene Dietrich and Turkish women living behind the veil.

One of seven children, Mary learned her sustaining craft of needlework early in life. Her father, an attorney and legal expert in Indian land titles, was also a strong believer in education. He sent Mary to convent school in Kansas City, Missouri, where she learned fine needlework, drawing and painting, the springboard for her later artistic success. Other individuals who influenced this future master quilt artist were an aunt, who taught Mary to do a five-patch by the time she was five years old, and the Ozark quilters she met in Arkansas early in the century.

Following two years at the University of Oklahoma, Mary taught briefly, then married. In 1931, she returned to school and earned her degree. Eventually, she received an M.A. from Carnegie Tech and later taught at Fordham University.

During a life that involved worldwide travel to countries such as England, Greece, and Turkey, her career as a university professor served as an anchor in various communities. Although she married twice and raised a son, she persisted in focusing on her work. "A husband of mine was always in the background," is how she put it.

Mary taught thousands of people to quilt during her twenty-five years of teaching. Following her "retirement" to Santa Fe in 1960, she organized a textile workshop in connection with the Museum of International Folk Art. There, in the course of fifteen years, she taught over three thousand students quilt making, weaving, stitchery, and design.

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes