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Farm to Fabric: 2022 Big Idea Award Winners Jessie Rice and Maggie Wiebe

Friendship and a fondness for fabric are the foundation of the winning 2022 Big Idea Award. 

New graduates Jessie Rice and Maggie Wiebe met at Stamps during the pandemic when few classes were held at the school. No one else was here. We were always wandering around, going to a few in-person classes and making art together,” remembers Jessie.

Maggie Wiebe (left), in a yellow shirt and glasses, and Jessie Rice (right), in a tie-dyed shirt
Maggie Wiebe and Jessie Rice

They discovered they shared a love of printmaking and working with fabric. Spending time with studio coordinators Kit Parks and Nicholas Dowgwillo helped them develop an appreciation of materials made from plants. They started spending time learning all they could about growing plants to make paper, yarn, ink, and more, working alongside Kit at the campus farm at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens where they grew indigo and flax. They were hooked, and it led them to think about how to share their newfound passion for this type of gardening. 

By growing your own materials, you develop a different level of understanding.”

I actually was thinking about our first meeting about our idea. We were in the printmaking studio talking about COVID and thinking about what the world needs at this moment,” said Jessie. That’s when we started thinking about how people needed an outlet for their creativity to help them cope with reality.”

That conversation led us to think about art materials, what they’re made of, how they’re made and who makes them,” said Maggie. And it made us think about sustainability. For instance, if my backpack is broken, it’s much better to fix it yourself because you understand how the cotton and dye were made and all the effort that goes into creating a backpack. By growing your own materials, you develop a different level of understanding.”

That’s when their big idea, called Farm to Fabric, took shape. In their Big Idea Award application, they explained their ultimate goal of bringing together a community of makers to help garden and grow plants to create sustainable art materials:

We will create a dye and fiber cooperative garden in Detroit, to support artists and community members in using raw materials by holding workshops in natural dyeing, fibers, and papermaking. Discovering plant-based materials drastically changed both our art practices, and we want to empower artists to take control of how and where they source their materials. We aim to expose others to the experience of making art from start to finish, with the goal of creating a greater connection to the natural environment, and an appreciation of the labor it takes to create the material used in their art.

The Big Idea Award was inspired by school namesake and alum Penny W. Stamps (19442018) in her April 2018 commencement speech at the school. She issued a call to action to Stamps students. What’s your big idea?” She prompted. What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your sweat equity in pursuing outside the walls of the University of Michigan? You have your artistic skills, now develop your ideas — your big idea,” she said. Imagination has no limits.”

Provided with generous support from the Stamps Family, friends, and other supporters in the community, in loving memory of Penny, the award provides one Stamps senior or team of eligible Stampers with $25,000 to help launch a major, ambitious project after graduation. 

A committee of external reviewers nominated by Stamps faculty and representing a wide range of expertise determined the winner. 

Jessie and Maggie will use the $25,000 prize to buy or lease land this summer, and then next winter they will begin preparation to plant the garden in spring 2023. They will also be building out plans for workshops and community participation in the Farm to Fabric project. 

We just want to build a community of people we can learn from, and give artists an opportunity to learn all these techniques and have access to the materials that we had while we were at Stamps,” said Jessie. Maggie added, We are so grateful to the Stamps family and others for creating this award. We can’t wait to get started.”

Flowers being dried for dye