Meet Smith Island Quilter Kathy Donaway

Kathy is a quilter, and a Smith Island resident.  Her quilts are stunning works of art, original, colorful, made with great skill and, like all great art, invoking an emotional response. Jennifer Merritt of the Crisfield Arts and Entertainment District took some time with Kathy to find out more about this featured artist.

In addition to quilting, Kathy and a group of women from Smith Island women including Debbie Tyler, Connie Dize, Vickie Parsons, and Cynthia Andreozzi sewed masks that were distributed for free to several communities, including Crisfield.  They sewed a total of 3,000 reusable masks.  Peninsula Medical Regional Center and Native American reservations in Nevada and New Mexico received many masks from Smith Island.  I asked Kathy how she heard about the need in this far part of the country.  “I didn’t” she said, “They reached out to us.  Probably heard about us from a friend of a friend on Facebook.” All of the material used for the masks was donated, and no one receiving a mask had to pay anything.  Donations even covered shipping.

Kathy said that, like many of us, she began sewing in Home Ec class in high school.  She is so talented now that I asked her what she made, imagining it would be a masterpiece.  “A pair of teal green shorts!” she laughed, “They were so ugly!”  

She increased her skill with practice, sewing clothes for her children as they were growing up, and sewing her first quilt for her son when he was 12.  It was made from scraps of flannel shirts.  Her husband’s shirts are still fair game today – if she is looking for a specific material for a quilt, she will check his closet.  She told me he may say “Hey -that looks familiar!”  but that her husband, two sons, and daughter, have always been very supportive of her art.  When the family was younger and she didn’t have a sewing room, the living room became the quilting room with no objections. Once she gets going on a quilt, it is hard to stop. Kathy was up until 3 am the night before this interview working on a quilt.  “Dinner?”  she says, “What dinner?” Her current project is a quilt of the Chesapeake Bay that she has been planning for 20 years.  She hopes to exhibit this at the Somerset County Arts Council’s West Main Street Gallery at 1101 W Main Street in Crisfield.  Check for updates on exhibits.  

Kathy served in the Army for six and a half years and is from Princess Anne. She had never visited Smith Island before the day that she put an offer on a house there.   On that visit, she said “Even the boat ride over was so calming…”  She calls Smith Island a national treasure that people don’t think about and says that visitors will travel to visit Jamestown “but we have the real thing right here.”

Kathy told me that it takes training and hard work to make something beautiful, whether it is a quilt, a crab pot or a net.  She believes that each of us need to be creative in the way that we feel called to.  She said “We spend so much time giving. We have to refill that tank and creating refills the tank.”

Kathy’s first participation with the Crisfield Arts & Entertainment District was the Hangin’ Out Art Show at the Corbin Studio & Gallery in May of 2019.  During the show she exhibited a large, stunning wall quilt of an underwater scene in blues, aquamarines and sunset colors with jellyfish, rays, and dolphins.  This work of art drew every eye at the show, and we are happy to say that Kathy is one of the Corbin Studio & Gallery co-op artists for 2020. The Corbin Artist Co-op is delayed in opening due to COVID-19, but we can’t wait to show off the work of these artists when we open the doors!

When I asked Kathy what her favorite thing was about the Crisfield Arts & Entertainment (A & E) District, she said it is that the A & E is all-inclusive.  Kathy told me that as a quilter, she has often felt that her work was not as accepted or valued as painting or photography.  She shared that quilting was not generally identified as an art until the quilts of Gee’s Bend.  If you are not familiar with these quilts, created by a community of African American women in a remote town in Alabama, they are worth reading about – and even more so, worth seeing. More information is available at

She said that one of her frustrations in talking to others about quilting is that people think quilts are too hard to make or can’t be used.  (I learned that many quilts can even go through the washing machine, increasing my fondness for them.)  She tries to recruit as many people as possible to quilting, saying that people aren’t perfect, and neither are quilts.  “A quilt is a hug” she says, something made with love.  If a work of art can be a hug, that describes Kathy’s quilts.  The Crisfield Arts & Entertainment District Project would like to thank Kathy for generously sharing her love for the art of quilting.

Contact [email protected] to receive the monthly Crisfield Arts & Entertainment District e-newsletter with updates on the Corbin Studio & Gallery and other Crisfield events, or check

Check out Kathy’s work on Etsy at smithislandquilting or call her at 410-425-2603.

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