Author: Clark, Carol L.
Mormon Handicraft, a consignment store for handwork, including quilts, rugs, dolls, baby clothes, and other handmade items, was founded in 1937 by Louise Y. robison, then general president of the Relief Society. The store was organized as a means of allowing women to supplement their family income during the depression of the 1930s (History of Relief Society, p. 115). Mormon Handicraft followed the pattern of earlier women's co-op stores operated by Relief Societies from the mid-1870s to 1912 (A Centenary of Relief Society, pp. 83-84).
Operated as a nonprofit organization, the store was originally administered by the Relief Society leaders, who desired "to preserve the skills of our pioneer ancestors and the skills and crafts of the various countries" (History of Relief Society, p. 115). General Board member Nellie O. Parker declared, "For the world to beat a path to the door of Mormon Handicraft Shop is our aim; and if Emerson is right, we are confident it will be so when people know of the fineness and skill of the workmanship to be found here" (Parker, p. 417).
An advertising brochure proclaimed, "Rare skill in handicraft from every country has been perpetuated in Utah . This cosmopolitan background, unique for thrift and versatility, has produced a handicraft guild not to be found in any other place in the world . There is quality only hands can produce" (Parker, p. 417). The brochure was distributed in dining and lounge cars of trains coming into Salt Lake City and was placed in a display case in the Hotel Utah lobby. The campaign was successful: On one occasion, Parker reported, after a visit to the store, a buyer for the Altman Company ordered "up-to-the-minute luncheon sets, copper work and oxen-yoke lamps" (Parker, p. 417).
Beginning in 1960, its scope was broadened and Mormon Handicraft became a distribution point for materials and ideas for the Relief Society's homemaking meetings, particularly quilting and other handwork supplies. Through the Homemaking Department of the Relief Society, women learned and practiced homemaking arts. The monthly compassionate service instruction given in Relief Society, where members were taught ways to assist less fortunate Church members, often included the production and distribution of quilts, clothing, and other necessities for the home. Availability of materials and classes was, therefore, welcomed by local Relief Society leaders. The sale of materials also helped maintain the economic viability of Mormon Handicraft.
As the Church grew, the need for a centralized distribution and education point diminished, and the shop as a separate unit was closed in January 1986 (Church News, Jan. 26, 1986, p. 12). The store then became a division of Deseret Book Company in June 1986. At the time of transfer, Ronald A. Millett, Deseret Book president, affirmed the company's goal of preserving Mormon Handicraft's reputation in both consignment and retail supply operations (Church News, June 8, 1986, p. 14).
In 1987, Mormon Handicraft accepted over 9,000 different items made by 1,900 contributors, ages fourteen to ninety-two. Contributors varied from the widow in Salt Lake City who for forty- eight years produced dish towels, stuffed animals, aprons, bibs, and almost ten thousand crocheted heart sachets, to the women in the Philippines who sold elaborate lace-edged handkerchiefs as their sole income source (Church News, Mar. 28, 1987, p. 10; Mormon Handicraft: A Brief History, p. 5).
A Centenary of Relief Society, 1842-1942. Salt Lake City, 1942.
History of Relief Society, 1842-1966. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Mormon Handicraft: A Brief History (pamphlet). Salt Lake City, 1987.
Parker, Nellie O. "Mormon Handicraft." Relief Society Magazine 26 (June 1939):417.
CAROL L. CLARK