From 7–11 November 2019, The Queen’s House, Greenwich, hosted the first ever exhibition of the War Widows’ Quilt. Made from armed forces shirts by over ninety war widows and their family members, this beautiful and moving piece of art tells many individual stories of love, loss, and grief while also shining a light on the ongoing history of war widowhood in the UK.
The quilt, made in collaboration with arts company arthur+martha, is part of the War Widows’ Stories project, led by Dr Nadine Muller (Senior Lecturer in English Literature & Cultural History, Liverpool John Moores University) and the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain (WWA).
We started work on the quilt exactly a year ago in this very same venue, and nobody could have predicted then what an impactful piece of art this would become. The War Widows’ Quilt tells so many moving stories, shares so many cherished memories, and expresses so much grief as well as hope. It is a magnificent, important memorial.
Theresa Davidson, whose husband served in the Scots Guards and died in the Falklands in 1982, commented: “I feel such pride and real honour to share my love and grief. The love, grief, loss, and pain never leaves you. It is my own personal war!” Another war widow, Angela Evans, reflected on the profound effect that contributing to the quilt had on her: “It’s from the heart. One day you have everything, then the next day you’ve got nothing. Somehow it helps to say something, to express it out loud.”
Lead artist Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha) reflects on her work on the quilt: “Sewing together the pieces into a final quilt felt a giant responsibility, but one for which I remain very grateful. I selected fabrics that had been worn by the armed forces. I carefully took apart fifty military shirts to make patches and chose a patchwork technique that deliberately echoes the quilts made by British servicemen during the Crimean War.”
Mrs Mary Moreland, WWA Chair, highlights the importance of this project for the Association, its members, and the wider war widows community: “The quilt and the project help the Association raise awareness of the challenges war widows face every day. Our voices are sadly still absent from most public institutions, including museums. We cannot tell the stories of war without the stories of those left behind.”
The quilt helps address a significant gap in the public histories of war, says Sue Pritchard, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Queen’s House: “The Queen’s House has long been the site of female power and patronage. As such we actively seek opportunities to reveal the untold female narratives inherent in our collections. It is therefore wholly appropriate that we take this opportunity to commemorate the experiences of contemporary women within the wider context of conflict on land and at sea”.
The following film tells the story of the War Widows’ Quilt and the War Widows’ Stories project. Made by John Felix, it captures the feelings of our artists, partners, and participants about the importance of this new memorial to the lives of war’s forgotten women.
War Widows’ Stories is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England, the British Academy, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it is run in partnership with Royal Museums Greenwich, the National Memorial Arboretum, and Imperial War Museums.