By: Susan A. D. Stanley
In her lifetime, Mary Catherine Lamb (1949−2009) completed nineteen quilts, most of them vivid, eccentric portraits of saints, angels, and demonic creatures. Long separated from the faith of her childhood, Lamb believed that her combination of Catholic subjects and vintage textiles and oddments both honored and affectionately skewered her devout upbringing. Scholars speculate that the “disquieting edginess” and “saucy insouciance” of her work influenced the Studio Art Quilt establishment to keep Lamb at arm’s length. She never made it into that pantheon of American quilt exhibitions, Quilt National.
Using Lamb’s unpublished writings, numerous newspaper and magazine articles and books, interviews of scholars and curators, family and friends, and close examinations of available quilts, this paper explores the motivations and processes behind the quiltmaker’s quest to reinterpret her religious upbringing, enabling her (in her own words) to “embrace the images in a completely different way.” The result is a renewed appreciation for an artist who, working almost entirely by herself (and, it is said, content to do so,) produced a unique, thought-provoking, and all-too-small body of work. At the very least, Lamb and her quilts deserve increased attention, if not a reassessment that places her as a major figure in the world of America’s Studio Art quilts.