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Dowdey, Maree

Maree Dowdey
Maree Dowdey

Dowdey specializes in many folk art traditions she learned from family members - everything from quilting to the fascinating art of making “old-timey” country lye soap. She grew up watching her family and relatives creating items of beauty as well as products for everyday living. Her hours of practice in learning their techniques and dedication to the task at hand taught her perseverance, patience and a deep respect for these skills. For most of her life, she has shared her skills and knowledge of quilting, natural dyes, spinning, weaving, soap-making, basketry, candlemaking, and cornshuck dolls.

Because of her close ties with textiles, she became interested in enhancing the beauty of fibers with natural dyes. She learned how to use roots, berries, flowers and many other organic materials for her dyes. Dowdey gathers the plants herself from within and around South Carolina. Many plants are gathered at specific times of the year and stored until needed. Once she has the desired ingredients, she soaks and boils them in water and then strains them out to produce the dye. The dye may be used to color wool, cotton, oak splints, reeds, as well as many other items. Currently, Ms. Dowdey is growing indigo in her garden and enjoys using her own plants to create the blue dye.

Soap-making, a tradition that has been with us for many centuries, requires the rendering of grease from animal sources, dripping water through ashes in order to secure the lye, then cooking them together to produce soap. Although seemingly a simple process, it is time-consuming and requires patience and skill. Lye soap was a staple in most pioneer homesteads and is a very good cleaning agent. Dowdey received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2003.

Dowdey has been very active in her endeavors to educate the public about the many traditional crafts in which she is involved. She works extensively in the public schools, universities, museums, and demonstrates her skills at many historical locations within South Carolina. She has conducted special programs for S.C. Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, Historic Camden, Historic Columbia Foundation, Walnut Grove Plantation, Kings Mountain State Park, and Andrew Jackson State Park bringing a vast amount of historical expertise into her efforts. She is also a juried member of the S.C. Artisans Center in Walterboro, S. C. which is the official folk art center of our State. She is a first year Community Scholar in the Traditional Arts, the S. C. winner in the Stearns and Foster 1976 Bicentennial Quilt contest and a member of the S. C. Traditional Arts Network. Maree has also served as a statewide consultant in research and conservation projects at McKissick Museum and the South Carolina State Museum. She is also a fiber specialist who is involved in appraising, conserving and restoring artifacts of intrinsic value.

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bullet icon Dowdey discusses lye soap and quilting traditions... (02:25)

Dowdey featured on a recent episode of Making It Grow! with host Rowland Alston. Courtesy of SC Educational Television.