Mary Borkowski


uses thread to make pictorial narratives that she calls thread paintings. She says they “are expressions of awful truths and deep emotional experiences of self, of others,and God’s creations.” Many of these works relate to current events, as well as incidents in her life. Her superb craftsmanship belies the dark subject matter of some of her work. Objects and figures are often presented in undefined, spatial settings, lending both emphasis and ambiguity to the subjects. Borkowski is also a master quilter and paints as well, using acrylics on Masonite and canvas.Borkowski was born in Sulfur Lick Springs, near Chillicothe, Ohio, and graduated from Stiver High School in Dayton. She learned to sew and quilt from her mother and grandmother, and distinguished herself for many years at the Ohio State Fair, beginning with a grand-prize-winning quilt,
(1952). Over the years shewon additional prizes at the fair, and sold some of her original quilt patterns to
magazines, and her designs also appeared in the
Quilter’s Newsletter.
Borkowski’s thread technique is precise, and she uses silk thread on a silk, velvet, felt, or cotton ground. She does not view her thread paintings as embroideries, asshe makes no attempt to use thread as decoration, embellishment, or ornament. She uses satin stitch to build her pictorial narratives, and each picture takes severalmonths to complete.
(1968) is an autobiographical work in which Borkowski, in a small auto, passes the bank that rejected her loan to buy property. An unfriendly sign, indicatingthat the bank is closed, hangs on a shade on the front door; a disembodied arm pulls down the shade. In a semi-autobiographical work,
The Slap (1974), male and female nude figures cavort in a house interior, with a man in dark, horn-rimmed glasses lustfully winking from behind a door. In
The Unhappy Hooker
(1975) a svelte blonde, nude but for red panties, sees herself in a mirror as a hideous Medusa, toothless, with dark circles under her eyes. Despite these worksthat display the dark side of human behavior and experience, there are lighter moments in Borkowski’s work as well. In
The President’s Decision
(1981), sheillustrates American president Ronald Reagan’s decision to give up smoking, substituting jellybeans in place of cigarettes.
Moonlight Romance
(1994) features her dogand a neighbor’s tenderly gazing at each other in front of a fence against a moonlit sky. Borkowski has had several one-person exhibitions at the Dayton Art Center (1968) and at Sinclair College, also in Dayton (1999). In 2003 she was nominated for an Ohio Folk Art Heritage Award.
See also
Painting, American Folk; Pictures, Needlework; Quilts; Samplers, Needlework
Akron Art Institute.
Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson.
Akron, Ohio, 1974.Borkowski, Mary.
Pets in My Life.
Dayton, Ohio, 2002.Cole, Kevin, and Barbara Cole.
Self-Taught and Made in Ohio.
Columbus, Ohio, 1999.Hemphill, Herbert Jr., and Julia Weissman.
Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1974.Johnson, Jay, and William C.Ketchum Jr.
American Folk Art of the Twentieth Century.
New York, 1983.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990