Mary Frances Davidson

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Mary Frances Davidson

Mary Frances Davidson was born in 1905 in Middlesboro, KY, into a family of third generation spinners and weavers.  She remembered her grandmother who "spun on the high wheel" and "wove 'jane."

Davidson attended West Virginia University during the early 1930s receiving a degree in education concentrating on mathematics, social science, and French.  In 1941 she completed her Master's Degree in Education at Duke University.  She taught math at White Silver Springs High School in West Virginia for 10 years, then in 1944 moved to Oak Ridge, TN, to continue her teaching career.

Also in 1944 Davidson studied weaving at Berea College and Penland School of Crafts.  But it was Fannie McLellan's course in natural dyeing at John C. Campbell Folk School in 1948 that inspired and stirred Davidson when she saw great hanks of yarn in lovely soft glowing colors draped over a loom.  Davidson recalled, "That was the vision of color that was never erased from my mind.  The bug bit me."

Besides her public school teaching Davidson became a faculty member at Arrowmont School of Crafts in vegetable dyeing in1965.  This continued from 1967 to 1983.  She led her students on field trips to gather dyeing materials, which were used to produce yarns, and create notebooks full of recipes.  She taught numberous dyeing workshops across the country including Michigan, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida as well as in her home state of Tennessee.  In 1972 she dyed fibers for woven upholstery yardage u sed for a couch at the 1787 Gunston Hall, the historic Virginia home of colonist and Constitution signer George Mason.  In that same year she participated in the International Art Program of the US Information Agency.  Numerous books and articles have included her craft insights.

In 1950 wrote the booklet The Dye Pot.  The dedication reads, "To Mother, who never fussed if the sink was stained."  Based on Davidson's research and experimentation, the book promoted the "fun of picking blossoms and gathering leaves from your own yard to see what you get."  The booklet, reprinted in 1961 and 1974, sold over 30,000 copies.

From her home in the mountains near Galtlinbrug, Davidson created her dye recipes using berries, plants, tree barks and roots.  Her colors were exceptiona.  As writer cynthia Russ Ramsey sayd, "The tumble of small hanks in tones of gold, green, purple, pink, and beige offered a feast for the eyes."  Each year Davidson spun and dyed about 400 pounds of yarn.  She sold her yarns at Arrocraft for weavers and knitters.  From 1949 to 2002, as a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, she demonstrated dyeing at Guild Fairs and Fiber Day.  She received Life Membership in 1972 and continued with the Guild until her death in 2002.  She was 97 years old.

In 1995 Arrowmont honored her at their 50th anniversary as a pioneer in extending the knowledge of native dyes and materials.  Sandra Blain,a SHCG member and former Director of Arrowmont said of Davidson, "She is one of the world's foremost authorities on vegetable dyeing and has alsways been willing to share her experiences and knowledge with others."

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