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Alumna artist's career linked to FRC mission
As you walk through the front door of Christopher Hall, home of the Family Resiliency Center (FRC), you can’t help but notice the beautiful textured art piece on the wall in front of you. At first glance, it resembles a child’s giant pinwheel toy without the stick. As you draw closer, though, you notice the geometric blades of the wheel are actually rich, colorful quilts of various patterns and sizes. This is Serendipity.
University of Illinois alumna and fiber artist Mary Buescher McDonald (B.S. Textiles & Clothing 1951, MS Leisure Studies 1969) worked on Serendipity for four years. “When I started it, I didn’t really have a plan,” she said on a recent visit to campus. “I’m inspired and somehow it just happens.”
According to McDonald, she donated the artwork to the FRC because she supports the center’s mission of strengthening families to meet life’s challenges and thrive—something she did in a three-decade career. As a young wife and mother, McDonald enrolled her three daughters in the U of I Child Development Lab pre-school at a time when moms were expected to stay home with their young children.
Her husband James supported her, though, and by the mid-1960s she began graduate studies in therapeutic recreation. “He was way ahead of his time,” McDonald said, noting that he was as involved with his children as fathers are today. “I was very excited to be taking classes again on campus, where the atmosphere was very free spirited and quite different from the authoritarian ways of my undergraduate days.”
During her graduate studies, McDonald worked with children who had disabilities, helping them learn how to complete daily tasks more easily. She and a colleague wrote a book describing new ways for the children to learn to dress themselves. When she graduated, her advisor asked her: “So what are you going to do with your degree?”
During the next decade, she worked with children with disabilities through a state agency, helped develop and launch a new daycare program through the Psychology department on campus, and took additional graduate-level courses. “My career and working with children was a great time in my life,” McDonald said.
One day while walking through Bevier Hall, she saw a woman weaving on a loom—something that she had always wanted to do. Soon after, she retired from the university and started weaving and working with fiber.
In the late 1980s, she started her own business, primarily selling clothing at art fairs throughout the Midwest. Eventually she settled on art quilting. “I use fiber the way a painter uses strokes of paint,” she said.
Today, McDonald continues her artistic endeavors, although she only creates small pieces due to space constraints when she moved to her current home in a senior-living community. “Working in a small space is a new challenge,” she said. “But I continue to love creating with fabric in new ways, and I love sharing the art with others.”
Fiber artist and U of I alumna Mary McDonald, who donated Serendipity to the FRC, visited Christopher Hall in November 2013 to show some friends her work. The university purchased two other of McDonald’s creations, which are displayed on the fourth floor of Engineering Hall on campus.