Migrant Mother

Almost a year ago I was challenged by a fellow artist to “sew what I know”.  She advised that if I created work that inspired me, I would in turn inspire others.  With that in mind I want to share with you my latest piece.  For those of you who do not recognize the original work, this piece is based on an iconic photograph by Depression Era photographer, Dorothea Lange.  Her photo, Migrant Mother (1936), perfectly encapsulates the emotion of the Great Depression.  I think I remember first seeing it in college, but it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I found myself identifying with the woman depicted.

Florence Thompson was the mother of seven children at the time this photograph was taken.  She worked in the fields, following the harvest of the crops in California.  When Dorothea came upon her, she and her family were stranded at a pea farm.  The crops they hoped to pick were frozen and their car’s timing chain had snapped.  The desperation Florence must have been feeling was perfectly captured in Dorthea’s photograph.  What I have chosen to do is modernize this mother’s plight.

I left my chosen field to stay at home and raise my children full time back in 1995.  Over the years I have returned to part time work here and there to help make ends meet and I have discovered something  both daunting andMaho1 depressing.  Given no perks, no regular hours, no real direction and, worst of all, no trust, I found myself working as hard as I could in faceless system. All without hope for true advancement or to have a chance at meaningfully impacting our family’s finances.  I have been fortunate that my husband has remained gainfully employed, and doubly so since he has provided for me the opportunity to return to school and create a new future for my family.  I know many people do not have that option.

So that is why I recreated Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph.  In my opinion, the times haven’t changed all that much.  Today my daughter and I saw a small tent community in the woods off a local highway.  She asked why people were camping on a school day ….




I have always loved the process of transforming pieces of fabric into quilts. For years I collected scraps, just to be sure I'd have the right piece for the project at hand. Eventually, as my skills progressed, my hobby grew into art. I moved from simple quits, to 'landscape quilting' and then eventually onto portrait work. I am new to the art field and am self-taught, learning from my mistakes as well as from my successes. I create my images using only fabric and thread. I remain true to this limitation for two reasons; first, I love the challenge of finding new ways to depict ever more challenging subjects. Second, fabric work remains my true love. I enjoy the hunt for fabrics; where other artists might blend oil paints, I love finding that perfect shade or pattern for a specific need. I refer to my style as "gestalt impressionism" for one needs to take a step back from my pieces to get the whole picture. My view point changes by what is influencing me at the time. Recently I've begun to focus on the journey of the individual. I enjoy working on portraits of people whom I feel have lead interesting lives.

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Posted in Art Quilts
12 comments on “Migrant Mother
  1. Melissa Block says:

    Mary, this is truly beautiful and brilliant. I love your choice of subject and your wordless, but powerful statement on our times!! Bravo!

  2. nsturgill says:

    I love the way you have used that iconic photo and made it meaningful for today

  3. knitnkwilt says:

    A beautiful transformation of the photo to fabric plus the perfect update!

  4. Erin Coyle says:

    This stirs up so much emotion for me. Simply brilliant!

  5. This IS brilliant. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next…you can change the world a little bit at a time through your art.

  6. […] time work in mid-May I lost some of my drive to work on my art.  The last big piece I had done, The Wage Earner, hadn’t gain much traction out of the blog-o-sphere and I was feeling a bit discouraged.  But […]

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