Mabel Murphy was a native of Callaway County, in the agricultural heartland of Missouri. She began school at age 6 in a one-room schoolhouse that served children in the area from first through eighth grades. When she was 8 years old, she pieced her first quilt top — a Four Patch pattern, the standard design usually taught to children in those days. Following instructions from her mother, Murphy set the blocks, each four squares of freely selected variegated material, into a checkerboard pattern, stitching them together with nine stitches to the inch. When all the blocks of four had been joined into a single large square, Murphy's mother and a neighbor helped her to quilt the completed top.
From then on, Murphy made quilting an integral part of her daily life — through her years in school and later as a homemaker, a mother and a public-spirited citizen of her community. She made more than one hundred quilts, all in the same basic style. After deciding on the general idea of the quilt she wanted to make, she selected the design and the materials needed and then started the process of piecing the quilt together. When that was completed, she usually called in her neighbors and friends to help with the lengthy job of quilting. Each finished quilt is a kind of map of the social relationships that created it, between the individual artist and the supporting family or community.
Murphy taught hundreds of women to quilt and opened her home every Thursday and Friday mornings to quilting circles for many years. She never received any compensation for her services or advice, nor did she ever sell one of her completed quilts. She said she made them to give away to her children and grandchildren. Each received a quilt upon graduation from college. When the boys in the family turned 19, she gave each of them a Bow Tie quilt to signify their attainment of manhood. Each child and grandchild also received two matching quilts upon his or her wedding day.
Murphy's Thursday morning quilting group made numerous quilts as donations for community causes; some were used in fundraising auctions for the local hospital or colleges. Murphy's neighbors supported and encouraged her work. To show their appreciation, they organized a local exhibition, entitled "A Lifetime of Love," featuring forty-one of her most cherished quilts. In explaining her motivations for spending so much of her time quilting, Murphy said, " I just don't like to sit and hold my hands."
Congdon, Kristin G., and Kara Kelley. American Folk Art: A Regional Reference, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2012, Page 424. https://books.google.com/books?id=MYUuFDEHmlsC&pg=PA424&lpg=PA424&dq=mabel+murphy+pat+o%27rourke&source=bl&ots=jxnXldQ5u1&sig=FBSoMOyZTgRYYIfyxJbI1TIMSz0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CC8Q6AEwA2oVChMIhpjC8vCmxwIVCViSCh3uDgAr#v=onepage&q=mabel%20murphy%20pat%20o%27rourke&f=false
Everts-Boehm, Dana. "Center Programs Play Key Role in 25th Anniversary of Missouri Arts Council." In Tradition (University of Missouri Cultural Heritage Center, fall 1990): 7.
Hunt, Marjorie, and Boris Weintraub. "Masters of Traditional Arts." National Geographic (January 1991) 179, 1.
Milacek, Barbara. "Times Have Changed, But Art of Quilting Has Not." Independent, Marshall, Minnesota (April 28, 1979).
"Patchwork and Paint." The Entertainer (November 3-9, 1991).
Roberson, Margot. "The Meetin' Place." Quilter's Newsletter Magazine* (January 1985).
Mabel Murphy interviewed by Charles Kurait, 1989 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Mabel Murphy home video, 'Quilt Show at Home,' March, 1992