Tree of Life





Object label

Tree of Life
Bertha Voelker
Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan
Collection of Michigan State University Museum acc.#2013:32.1

Essay about this quilt.

During the 1930s, The Detroit News was a major sponsor and supporter of quilting. By the decade’s early years, the newspaper was offering quilting patterns and was regularly featuring quilting in its Beauty in the Home column. In 1933, the column’s editor, Edith B. Crumb, launched a quilt club that readers could join and share letters about their quiltmaking activities. By 1934, the response to the quilting club was so strong that a new column, Quilt Club Corner, was launched. The column featured quilting news from club members, profiles of quilting clubs, and news of quilt shows. The paper also underwrote a quilting program on WWJ radio.

In late 1933, Edith Crumb announced that The Detroit News would be sponsoring a quilt show to be held November 17-19 at the Detroit Naval Armory. More than 1,500 quilts were entered and more than 10,000 visitors viewed the show. The shows continued into the 1940s. In 1940, this Tree of Life quilt made by Bertha Voelker won the Grand Prize at the show.

The Detroit News has retained very little archival material about the column. Today, we can piece together the history of the column through family stories and quilt column clippings. The MSU Museum is currently digitizing and adding to the Quilt Index materials related to this part of our state’s quilting history.

Bertha Voelker was a prolific quiltmaker and a leading member of the Detroit News Quilt Club Corner (1932-1940). She won many awards for her quilts and was frequently mentioned in the Detroit News. This quilt won the best of show award at the 1940 Detroit News Quilt Show. It was made for her grandson, Charles Voelker, who donated it to the MSU Museum.

Who documented this quilt?

Michigan Quilt Project; Michigan State University Museum Collection

Where are the records for this quilt housed?

Michigan State University Museum

Michigan Quilt Project Number:


If this quilt is owned by a museum, enter the accession number:


Owner's name for the quilt:

Tree of Life

When was the form filled out?


Quilt top made by:

Voelker, Bertha

Quilted by:

Voelker, Bertha

If you are the quilt owner, how did you acquire this quilt?

Received as a gift

Where the quilt was made, country:

United States

Time period:


When was the quilt finished?


Why was the quilt made?

Gift or presentation

Details about why the quilt was made:

for grandson, Charles Voelker

Quiltmaker's gender:


Quiltmaker's city:


Quiltmaker's county:


Quiltmaker's state:

Michigan (MI)

Quiltmaker's maiden name:


Quiltmaker's birth date:


Quiltmaker's date and place of death:


Quiltmaker's educational background:

8th grade

Quiltmaker's religious affiliation:


Quiltmaker's occupation:


Quiltmaker's father's name:

Zabst, Frank

Quiltmaker's father's ethnic/tribal background:


Quiltmaker's mother's name:

Miller, Catherine

Quiltmaker's mother's ethnic/tribal background:


Quiltmaker's spouse's/spouses' ethnic/tribal background:


Quiltmaker's spouse's/spouse(s) occupation:

Worked at Standard Oil

Number of children:


How many of the quilt maker's children were boys?


Does/did the quiltmaker sell quilts:


Does/did the quiltmaker teach quilting?


Name(s) of group(s) the quiltmaker belongs(ed) to:

Grand River Quilt Club

Where does/did the group meet?

Detroit, MI

This is a:

Finished quilt

How wide is the quilt?


How long is the quilt?


Shape of edge:


Describe the corners of the quilt:


Overall color scheme:


Quilt's condition:

Good/moderate use

Describe the type of inscription:


What is inscribed on the quilt?

Tree of Life Chas J. Voelker (made specifically for him)

What is the date inscribed on the quilt?


How was the inscription made?

In the quilting

Border description:


Fiber type(s) used to make the quilt top:


Piecing techniques used to make the quilt top:

Hand Piecing

Applique techniques used to make the quilt top:

Hand Applique

Materials used to make the back:


Number of pieces of fabric in the quilt back:


What is the width of the binding (measure on the top only)?

less than a half inch

What kind of filling is used in the quilt?

Cannot tell

Quilting techniques used:

Hand quilting

Number of quilting stitches per inch, place 1:


Number of quilting stitches per inch, place 2:


Quilting designs used, overall motifs:


Related items such as diaries, obituaries, wills, household inventories, or pictures of the quiltmaker:

Prizes, awards, ribbons, etc.

Publications (including web sites) where this quilt or maker was featured:

Photos of quilter; Clippings or photocopies

Ownership of this quilt is:

Public- Michigan State University Museum

Quilt owner's name:

Michigan State University Museum

Quilt owner's city:

East Lansing

Quilt owner's county:


Quilt owner's state:

Michigan (MI)

Quilt owner's country:

United States

How was this quilt acquired?


Tell the story of how the quilt was obtained.

This quilt was donated to the MSU Museum by Charles Voelker. His grandmother Bertha, made this quilt as a gift for him.

Describe anything about the history of the quilt that wasn't already recorded in a previous field.

Historic Museum Pattern Is Copied by Quilter by Edith B. Crumb The favorite pasttime of Mrs. Charles Voelker, 12055 Harwell avenue, is making quilts from difficult patterns. Her latest achievement in this line, a Tree of Life quilt, is shown in the picture. Mrs. Voelker first got the idea from a news paper clipping showing a seventeenth century woven bedcover which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Mrs. Jane Howie, Walled Lake, took the clipping and enlarged it to a size suitable for a large quilt. Mrs Howie lkes to figure out difficult patterns as well as Mrs. Voelker likes to make them into a quilt, so they are a good team. It took Mrs. Voelker 11 months to complete this quilt. A study of the design will give you some idea of how much planning had to be done for the color scheme. MANY COLORS The trunk is brown, the grass medium green and the small plants several shades and tints of green. The flowers in the centers of the border are of varied shades and violets. Almost every other color imaginable has been included in the tree. The background of this quilt is white and the binding green. The field of the center panel is quilted in a diamond lattice, outside of which is a narrow conventional flower, quilted. The border is in chevron striped quilting. Mrs. Voelker has put the name of the pattern and the name of her grandson Charles Joseph Voelker, who is to inherit the quilt, in white quilting. Photo caption: This quilt which is known as the Tree of Life pattern is a very difficult one to make. It was enlarged by Mrs. Jane Howie from a small newspaper clipping and the quilt was made by Mrs. Charles Voelker. Both have been members of the Quilt Club for several years. Bertha Voelker received ribbons and awards for the following shows as listed. I, her grandson's (Charles Voelker) wife now have these ribbons: Honorable Mention - Detroit News Quilt Club - 1935 First Premium Domestic and Applied Arts - Mich. State Fair 1936 Special Premium Finished Quilt Unspecified Pattern Detroit News Quilt Show - 1938 Honorable Mention - Detroit News Show - 1938 Honorable Mention - Detroit News Show - 1940

Access and copyright information:


How did the quiltmaker participate in the creation of the quilt?

Made entire quilt

Describe any favorite patterns, tools, etc. used by the quilt maker:


Copyright holder:

Michigan State University Museum

Cite this Quilt

Voelker, Berth. Tree of Life. 1939. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project; Michigan State University Museum Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, Accessed: 05/17/22