On Saturday, February 20, in Union, Missouri, a unique and amazing collection of baseball memorabilia will be auctioned. Baseball fan Clara Schmitt Rothmeier, who passed away last June, created several baseball-themed quilts, the most famous of which, a piece called “My Favorite Baseball Stars,” was exhibited by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1959-1960. It came to my attention as part of the 2003 American Folk Art Museum exhibit, “A Perfect Game,” which I reviewed at Futility Infielder. This is what I wrote at the time:
One of the most prominent pieces of the exhibit is a 7′ x7′ quilt called “My Favorite Baseball Stars,” created by Clara Schmitt Rothmeier, the daughter of a minor league ballplayer. (This photo of the quilt and the other photos I link to for this article were generously provided by Susan Flamm of the AFAM for the purposes of this review). Over a ten-year period from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties, Rothmeier drew pictures of her favorite players, traced them onto fabric, appliquéd and embroidered each one, then sent them to the players for their autographs. Once a panel was returned, she would add it to her quilt, embroidering the signature as well. Midway into the project, she added a border of cloth baseballs, each featuring another signature that she’d collected. The finished quilt contains forty-four panels and about three hundred autographed balls. There are some heavy hitters among those portrayed: Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Robin Roberts, Al Kaline, and a sleeveless Ted Kluszewski. Among the signed and embroidered balls are even more legends: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx, Frankie Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, “Cool Papa” Bell, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax. Yeah, some of those guys could play ball.
Here’s Rothmeier’s bio on the auction site, along with links to a few of the other quilts which are up for auction:
Born in 1931, hailing from Japan, Missouri, Clara Schmitt Rothmeier was certainly no stranger to the diamond.
Clara was an accomplished baseball player as well as a quiltmaker. Her father played minor league ball in the Pittsburgh organization, and her five brothers and four sisters had all played on traveling baseball and softball teams. Clara herself played first base for a traveling softball team from Springfield, Illinois. While on the road, she started sewing to keep busy. Her “My Favorite Baseball Stars” quilt took more than 10 years to complete, has 340 actual autographs, and was exhibited in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1959-1960.
She has also made quilts commemorating the 1951 and 1956 St. Louis Cardinals (her favorite club) [here and here], the major league teams of 1948, and Jackie Robinson’s 1955 World Champion Dodgers [here], and the “Major League Baseball Stars” quilt [here] containing 537 actual autographs.
Also via the auction site, here’s a bit about her most famous quilt’s trip to Cooperstown:
This quilt graced the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY from 1959-1960. Clara took the quilt to the offices of J. Taylor Spink, editor of the Sporting News in St. Louis to see if she could have a picture of the completed quilt put in the paper so that those who had contributed their names would be able to see the finished quilt.
The picture of the quilt, and Rothmeier and Spink, ran in the Sporting News in March of 1959. Sid Keener, director of the Hall of Fame, saw the picture and made arrangements with Rothmeier to have the quilt displayed in Cooperstown, where it was on public view for almost one year.
The president of the Hall of Fame invited her to go to Cooperstown to see it on display, and arranged for her to see the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs play at Doubleday Field. “After the game there was a tea party where I met the entire Cubs team including Ron Santo,” Clara adds, unable to restrain her obvious love for the game. “Nobody could throw it like him!”
In addition to meeting the Cubs, Clara was able to meet many other baseball greats because of her exposure at the Hall of Fame. One such player was former Yankee great Joe DiMaggio. “I loved Joe DiMaggio the moment I met him,” said Clara. “He got a lot of autographs for me, and interviewed me on his Fan in the Stands show. When he asked me if I’d do it, I was really unsure about it, and told him I wouldn’t know what to say. He said, ‘That’s okay, nobody listens to me anyway.’ Talking with him you felt like you’d known him all your life.”
Update: The “My Favorite Baseball Stars” quilt fetched $62,500 at auction, and one of the other Cardinals quilts went for $10,200. Both were bought by Phyllis LaPlant, Rothmeier nieces who was responsible for arranging and promoting the auction. “The more I promoted it, the more I fell in love to it,” said LaPlant, who plans to ask the Hall of Fame to display the quilts again. All of the quilts sold, mostly to family members, with the average cost of the other ones around $1,200.