‘Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. An amazing project, a piece of history for all, for the present and the future. A quilt of unending love, pain and grief. A quilt of great honour, a true work of art.’
Theresa Davidson (participant)
Every year, we celebrate and commemorate the lives and sacrifices of those who have fought and fallen in service for their country. Still, we know little about the lives and experiences of the wives and families that service personnel and veterans leave behind. They are not commemorated as heroes. We do not talk about their fights and struggles when we remember the wars Great Britain has fought over the centuries.
In 2018 we were delighted to be awarded a grant from Arts Council England to be part of the War Widows’ Stories project. Collaboratively we made an embroidered quilt and a collection of poems, which is being exhibited at iconic venues.
The project gives expression to and raises public awareness of war widows’ experiences, it allowed participants to frame their lives through the arts, to see themselves differently, it acknowledge their experiences, and built a creative legacy, a shared history.
War Widows’ Stories was led by Dr Nadine Muller, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University and author of The Widow: A Literary & Cultural History (2019). Lois Blackburn led the arts workshops and work on the quilt, Philip Davenport led on the creative writing.
We collaborated with the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain (WWA), an organisation that has been working tirelessly to improve the conditions of war widows and their dependants since 1971.
‘Sewing my square gave me a strange sort of peace. I could think about how (my husband) died while I stitched so the sewing was giving me a control. It’s hard to explain but it worked for me.’
Lauran Hamilton (participant)
In June 2021, arthur+martha’s lead Artist Lois Blackburn joined Dr Nadine Muller and Mary Moreland MBE to discuss the War Widows’ Quilt. Part of the British Academy Summer Showcase 2021
Project in numbers
105 Participants, aged between 30 and 98
ITN News, 11th November 2019. Audience 8 million viewers. (average viewing figures 8,000,000 per day)
9th Nov 19 The Daily Express, Circulation (average per issue) 295,079 people
2019 Edinburgh, Mac Donald Hotel. War Widows’ Association AGM. Audience 150
2019 National Memorial Arboretum, Audience 800
2019 The Queen’s House, Royal Museums Greenwich. Audience 3150
2019 Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield. Audience 130
2019 Southport Convention Centre. Audience 100
2020 Europa Hotel, Belfast. War Widows’ Association AGM. Audience 150
Exhibition audience 4480. A year long national tour will be starting Nov 2020. The quilt will then be on ‘long term loan’ at a National Museum. More details to follow.
The Border (extract) It’s a story that needs telling. How kind people make life worth living How you keep on plodding. How we all need a say. The darkest days, stitched in black Working out missed birthdays, Anniversaries, Children’s first steps. Can’t tell the story of war Without the story of war widows. Can’t remember the sound Of your voice. Of hope. I tried to inject colour Behind the smile, sadness remains There are many kinds of damage And many kinds of brave. Various writers
The project is supported by Arts Council England, the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, Liverpool John Moores University, Royal Museums Greenwich, the Imperial War Museums, the National Memorial Arboretum and the Heritage Lottery Fund.