The Faculty Women’s Club of the University of Michigan pieced together 100 years of history in a quilt exhibition commemorating their centennial, which was installed in the Duderstadt Gallery on Sunday. The exhibition features 50 handmade quilts of various shapes, sizes and materials and will be open to the public until March 15.
Over 80 attendees, including FWC members and other local community members, gathered in person Sunday afternoon for the exhibition’s opening. The quilters spoke with attendees about the stories behind their projects and their creative processes. Angie Miller, one of the exhibition’s primary organizers, said she used quilt squares she had received from other FWC members about 20 years ago to make her quilt for the exhibit.
“I received the squares for my 50th birthday,” Miller said. “And I finished it before my 70th.”
FWC was founded in 1921 by Nina Burton, the wife of the fifth University President, Marion Burton. According to the FWC website, Burton created the organization to bring together the wives of faculty members and female faculty to create a supportive community for women at the University.
FWC President Robin Richstone told the attendees that the organization currently has around 390 members. In the past two years, Richstone added, the organization has expanded to include male faculty members and University staff of all gender identities.
To celebrate their 100-year anniversary, FWC engaged with the campus community at various events throughout the academic year. Richstone said sharing artwork — and handmade textile projects in particular — has been an important part of their centennial celebration. In November 2021, the FWC gave away over 100 knitted hats and scarves to members of the U-M community in anticipation of the winter weather.
Richstone said planning for the quilt exhibition commenced during the 2015-2016 academic year, when she was first elected FWC president. After a brief hiatus, she was elected again last year to return as the 2021-2022 president. Though FWC used to put on quilt shows with local historical museums, it has been over a decade since the organization has displayed their quilts for the public. Richstone said the exhibition was a perfect opportunity to pay homage to the organization’s history and to show off the quilts that members of the organization have been working on.
“We knew our centennial was coming,” Richstone said. “We thought, let’s have a quilt show. We all make these quilts and we don’t really show them anymore.”
Kathi Reister, the arts programming manager for the Duderstadt Center, said Anne Duderstadt herself had reserved the gallery for FWC’s quilt exhibition in anticipation of the event.
“Mrs. Duderstadt actually is a member of the club,” Reister said. “She made the reservation probably five or so years ago because (the Duderstadt Gallery) does fill up about a year in advance.”
Miller and Richstone are both members of the 20-person FWC quilting group, who created all of the quilts on display. Richstone said one of the quilting group’s main projects is creating eight to ten quilts annually to donate to the SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, which supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The SafeHouse quilts are a team effort, Richstone said. Typically, each member of the quilting group makes one or two quilt squares, and FWC uses their endowment funds to have the final product professionally quilted. Though FWC donates the SafeHouse quilts as soon as they are finished, there is one quilt for SafeHouse on display at the exhibition that will be donated after the showing closes.
“Members who want to will volunteer to make the blocks and then somebody will put them together,” Richstone said. “We donate our time, we donate our fabric.”
The quilts on display feature a variety of different subjects, designs and techniques. From traditional Japanese sashiko embroidery to Australian Aboriginal designs, Richstone said she hopes the exhibition will inspire those who visit to appreciate nuance — in the quilts themselves and the world around them.
“We are so excited to do this,” Richstone said. “We’ve got quilts and people can come see them and be inspired.”
Phyllis Patterson, from Canton, Mich., attended the exhibition’s opening and said seeing all of the quilts left her in awe. Patterson said she does embroidery in her free time, and now she has a newfound appreciation for quilting as well.
“These are absolutely gorgeous quilts, the precision is wonderful,” Patterson said. “I think it’s marvelous that so many have messages or other little hidden things in them.”
U-M students also stopped by the Duderstadt Gallery for the opening of the exhibition. Engineering freshman Lute Smith said one of the quilts on display was made for him by his grandmother, a FWC member, and his mother when he graduated from high school.
Though he primarily visited the exhibit with his family and friends to see his personalized quilt on display, Smith said the rest of the exhibit was just as spectacular. He encouraged other U-M students to take time to look at the colorful collection of quilts while they have the chance.
“I like all the bright colors,” Smith said. “It’s fun to look at. I’ve told a few people that they should come down here and check (the exhibit) out while it’s here.”
Daily News Editor Roni Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.