Grace Snyder: A Life in Extraordinary Stitches

Grace Snyder: A Life in Extraordinary Stitches

Grace Snyder: A Life in Extraordinary Stitches

Curator Janet Price chose 14 quilts made by Grace Snyder to be featured in this exhibition. While the quilts must be viewed in person to fully appreciate the artistry and workmanship of the Quilters Hall of Fame inductee Snyder, the images below provide a preview. With the exception 'Flower Basket Petit Point' which is loaned by the Nebraska State Historical Society, all quilts in this exhibition are generously loaned by descendants of Grace Snyder.

This exhibition showcased quilts made by Grace Snyder, an icon of American quiltmaking. Recognized in the United States as one of the twentieth century's most accomplished quiltmakers, Grace's legacy lives on in the twenty-four quilts she created for exhibitions and competitions, several of which are included in this exhibition.

In 1999, Quilter's Newsletter Magazine asked twenty-nine quilt experts to select the one hundred best American quilts of the twentieth century. In the first round of nominations, over half of the participants chose Grace Snyder's "Flower Basket Petit Point" which automatically qualified the quilt for inclusion in the final list. Finished in 1943, Grace made this remarkable masterpiece in sixteen months using approximately 87,000 tiny triangles to reproduce a china design produced by the Salem China Company of Salem, Ohio.

By displaying her quilts throughout the country, Grace established herself as one of the preeminent quiltmakers in mid-twentieth century America. Her significant achievements were acknowledged in 1980 when, at age 98, she was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame.

Grace Snyder's legacy as a prize-winning quiltmaker is firmly established. Less well known, however, is Grace's private side, as represented by the many family quilts she made over the years. IQSC Collections Manager Janet Price, in fulfillment of her masters degree program in Quilt Studies, designed the exhibition to showcase 13 of Grace's public and private quilts along with pieces of her other handicrafts and memorabilia from Grace's rich life in the Nebraska Sand Hills. The quilts on display were loaned from Grace's descendants and the Nebraska State History Museum.

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About the Maker

About the Maker
About the Maker

Courtships often were brief in the Nebraska Sand Hills. The limited opportunities for socializing in the sparsely populated plains, the distance between families, and the need for two people to share the responsibilities of living on the land and raising a family provided impetus for quick decisions. Bert and Grace followed this pattern during their short courtship.

When Grace was seventeen, her father became gravely ill and lay suffering for several weeks. One day as Grace was watching over him a young gray-eyed man came to the door. The man and his partner had stopped at a neighbor’s ranch to water their cattle and had heard of the McCance’s misfortune. They were camping nearby and the stranger offered to provide the family with some relief from caretaking by sitting up with Grace’s sick father or by helping with the family’s chores. Grace assured him there was plenty of help available, but she later remembered his kind manners and his easy way of riding a horse. It was the first glimpse she had of her future husband, Albert “Bert” Snyder.

A few months later Bert appeared unexpectedly on a fine large horse while Grace was out gathering wild grapes in a local canyon. The shy couple could think of little to say. Grace stood mortified as she watched him ride away since she was wearing her father’s old clothes and was convinced that she had made a terrible impression.

In the summer of 1900 Grace visited North Platte for the first time to hear Teddy Roosevelt make a whistle-stop campaign speech, as a candidate for Vice President. The town was already bustling with excitement when a group of enthusiastic cowboys rode into the scene. The same gray-eyed stranger she had met earlier led the cowboys into the festivities by jumping his horse over a rope barrier and Grace once again noted his easy manner and good looks. It was a year before Grace saw Bert again.

The next meeting occurred while Grace was gathering chokecherries and her horse wandered away. She hiked up her skirts, waded across the creek and hurried after the mare, only to lose the horse each time she grabbed at the reins. From around the bend an amused Bert appeared and quickly captured the errant horse. Grace yanked down her skirts, but was so surprised and embarrassed, she found little to say. Silently Grace watched Bert ride away, convinced she would never have any luck conversing with the good-looking cowboy.

Grace was twenty-one before they met again at a fish fry held for young people at neighbor Sam Marant’s shack on East Creek. She was pleased to see Bert and as they gathered chokecherries together, Bert invited Grace to go horseback riding the following Sunday. During a quiet moment that Sunday afternoon he took the opportunity to propose marriage and Grace immediately accepted. They were married two months later on October 23, 1903, in Maxwell, Nebraska, at the home of Bert’s father, Jeremiah Snyder. They began their long journey to Bert’s ranch that same day, stopping only to have their wedding picture taken in North Platte. They would spend fifty-three years together before Bert passed away.

Grace Snyder as a Public Figure

Grace enjoyed displaying her quilts in public and entered local, national and international quilt exhibitions. She often entered the Lincoln County and Nebraska State Fairs where she won numerous ribbons. In 1944, she was awarded $2.50 when her ‘Flower Basket Petit Point’ was chosen as sweepstakes winner at the Nebraska State Fair. At the 1951 State Fair, eighteen of her quilts were displayed together at the Fine Arts Building. That same year, Grace’s ‘Grape Quilt’ appeared in a separate display case because it had been awarded the purple sweepstakes ribbon.

In 1950, four of Grace’s quilts were displayed at the Women’s International Exhibition in New York City. ‘Covered Wagon States’ won a special ribbon in the International Division and the ‘Grape Quilt’ won a blue ribbon for Grace’s fine appliqué work. The ‘Flower Basket Petit Point’ and the ‘Bird of Paradise’ were placed in a special division since there was nothing else like them at the exhibition. They were awarded the two highest ribbons of their division.

Grace exhibited her quilts to acclaim in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, and California. When her daughter Nellie began flying to the exhibitions by herself, a separate seat was purchased beside her for the large box containing Grace’s quilts. They were too valuable to include with the luggage.

By displaying her quilts in competitions and exhibitions throughout the country, Grace established herself as one of the preeminent quiltmakers in mid-twentieth century America. Her significant achievements were acknowledged in 1980 when, at age 98, she was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame.

Throughout her life, Grace was known for her needlecraft. She was an expert in crochet and made bedspreads, tablecloths and doilies for her own use and as gifts for family members. Her embroidery was so valued by the family that they cut and saved embroidered strips from pillow cases that had worn out. The blouse you see here showcases Grace’s needlework skills and features a drawn work design. During a family interview, Grace’s daughters recalled her skill in making their clothes. After each girl selected a dress for Grace to copy from the Sears catalog she would cut her own patterns from wrapping paper.

No Time on My Hands, Grace’s autobiography as told to Nellie Snyder Yost, her eldest daughter, remains a popular book with quilters.

Select Works in the Exhibition

Select Works in the Exhibition

Hexagon Mosaic
Grace McCance Snyder
99” x 102”
From the estate of Billie Thornberg

The ‘Hexagon Mosaic’ was included in the elite list of one hundred best American quilts of the twentieth century as selected by twenty-nine quilt experts.  The original design, created by Albert Small of Illinois, included 63,450 pieces and appeared in a magazine article in the late 1930s.  Intrigued by the quilt, Grace asked Albert to send her the tiny template and he responded with six fabric hexagons and a black and white snapshot of the quilt which Grace enlarged.  Grace’s ‘Hexagon Mosaic’ was bed-sized by the time she had hand stitched 58,640 pieces together. 

The modest hexagon figure can produce a multitude of quilt designs and this quilt is an extraordinary example of the complexity and beauty that can be achieved.  There is no record of how Grace chose her colors or determined her exact design, but we have the marvelous result of her efforts.  There is no batting between the front and back of the quilt and Grace simplified the quilting pattern to a single line through the middle of some of the pieces.

Lincoln Quilt
Made by Grace McCance Snyder
Dated 1939
90” x 88”
From the estate of Billie Thornburg

Grace’s stunning yellow, orange and cream hand appliquéd and hand pieced ‘Lincoln Quilt’ was published as an Anne Orr pattern by the Lockport Cotton Batting Company.  Known for her many knitting, crochet and tatting patterns, Ann Orr began creating distinctive quilt designs in the 1920s.  She was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 1980.
Each block of the ‘Lincoln Quilt’ contains 128 small yellow squares surrounded by four eight-pointed stars made in a combination of yellow and orange fabric.  The geometric squares and stars contrast with the soft curves of the swag and the scalloped quilt edges.

Grace frequently used multiple quilting designs on a quilt and the ‘Lincoln Quilt’ illustrates her skill in combining different motifs. The setting blocks contain a center grid surrounded by a feathered plume circle.  Beyond the plume is a series of petals similar to the sunflower.  Four lines of quilting in the swag echo its curves while the quilting in the leaves gives each leaf a vein structure resembling nature’s own pattern.  Grace also quilted “1939” and her initials “G.B.S.” into the cream background.

Double Wedding Ring
Grace McCance Snyder
Early 1930s
82” x 82”
From the estate of Billie Thornburg

In 1927 Bert leased the ranch for five years and moved the family to Salem, Oregon.  During the years away from the demands of ranch life in the Sand Hills, Grace enjoyed the frequent gatherings of a local quilt group.  She mentioned those years in her autobiography No Time on My Hands, saying “…I never had it so good.”  

While in Oregon, Grace wrote to Nellie “….have started a pretty new one called the Double Wedding Ring.  The rings are made of little print pieces and I’m exchanging prints with the quilting club ladies.  I want as many different pieces as I can get.”  Later Grace wrote, “The pieces you sent me were just what I needed to finish the Wedding Ring.”

It is not certain that this quilt is the ‘Double Wedding Ring’ Grace made in Oregon but the fabrics are indicative of the period and Billie remembers this quilt as always being on Grace’s bed.  Perhaps it reminded Grace of the happy years she spent in Oregon quilting with friends.

Select Works in the Exhibition
This exhibition was made possible with support from National Quilting Association, Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment.
Event Date
Friday, April 10, 2009 to Sunday, June 14, 2009