Few people have ever heard of Marian G. Wilburn, nor should they be expected to. She was a child of the Great Depression who married a young naval officer during World War II and went on to become a homemaker, mother of four daughters, grandmother of 10, great-grandmother of 9. Typical story of so many women of her generation.
But Marian Wilburn was also a woman of marvelous talent.
Perhaps it was out of tradition she excelled at needle and fiber arts. Marian was raised by her widowed grandmother Mae Zimmerman, called Grams by the family. Grams made her living as a seamstress. Grams taught Marian how to handle what was called “fine sewing” in those days. Grams lovingly passed on her knowledge of intricate designs to her young granddaughter. Marian learned how to make invisible hems, French seams, handmade buttonholes and embroidery for embellishing collars.
Perhaps it was out of necessity Marian took up needles and hooks. In the Great Depression people had to make do. If they wanted something new, they made it themselves. Rather than buy lace to trim collars and cuffs, Marian crocheted and tatted her own lace. Her sweaters she knitted herself. It became a lifelong habit. Her children’s clothes she sewed herself. The rugs in her home were works of art she braided with her own hands.
Perhaps it was a need for self-expression that caused her to create quilts, afghans and other delights. There were few avenues outside the home in those days for a lady to “make her mark.” But she did make her mark in the tiny initials she worked into so many of her creations.
Or perhaps it was a love of the sheer beauty of the things she created that caused Marian to embrace all forms of fiber and needle arts and shared those arts with her four little girls.
Marian G. Wilburn was my mother. She taught me to crochet when I was five years old. I can remember sitting on my little cricket stool chain stitching necklaces as Momma hooked glorious afghans. One of my favorite Christmas presents came when I was seven. It was in the shape of a turquoise hat box. Opening it, I squealed with delight at the sight of my first embroidery kit. Momma showed me how to make Lazy Daisy, French Knot, Satin and all sorts of fabulous stitches. Completing my first sampler was a moment of great pride for me.
Through her tutelage, my sisters and I learned about the variety of fiber craft and the planning and work that went into creating each object. Sometimes we would browse in antique shops and she would show us a piece of intricate workmanship she found and explained how it was created. Her respect for the artisans was profound. She collected many of those pieces. She believed they were works of art that deserved to be preserved. All these things – especially an admiration of the art as well as the artisans – Momma passed on to her daughters.
Interestingly, Momma never saw herself as a talented fiber artist. The artists, she thought, were all the other creative people. She described herself as a homemaker doing what came naturally to her.
After her death, we agreed to honor her memory, her talent and her love for fiber and needle arts by creating the Marian G. Wilburn Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to encouraging a new generation of fiber and needle artists, recognizing the skills of the artisans among us, and preserving the beautiful creations left to us by previous generations.
The Advisory Board and I hope you will remember the creative artist in your life who found expression by picking up a hook or a needle, a piece of yarn or some thread, by weaving or smocking or tatting by giving to the Marian G. Wilburn Foundation. Your contribution will go to our Scholarship Fund for students pursuing degrees in fiber/needle arts. It will go to our Museum Fund to assist museums in the purchase and preservation of significant works of fiber/needle arts. It will go to our Young Designer’s Prize Fund as we help artisans’ guilds recognize talented newcomers in respective fields. And it will go to our Education Fund so we may conduct regional Master Classes with some of the most acclaimed fiber/needle artisans creating today.
Keep the fiber and needle arts alive and loved.
Anita Wilburn Darras
Linda Wilburn Shepard Kelley Garrett Kramer Savannah Marian Dorsett Stuart Elizabeth Shepard