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Artist, Alumna, Friend: Ellen Wilt (1921-2020)

Ellen Wilt — a cherished member of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design community — died on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at the age of 98.

A University of Michigan alumna (BFA, ‘69 and MA, ‘70), Wilt was an incredibly important figure in our regional art community. A prolific studio artist and an art professor at Eastern Michigan University (1969-85), Wilt worked tirelessly throughout her life to foster a vibrant arts community in the academy and beyond.

Wilt is remembered fondly for organizing group exhibitions around active creative prompts, including her 2002 exhibition at the Michigan Guild Gallery, entitled A Room of Your Own. Inspired by Virginia Woolf's “A Room of One’s Own,” Wilt organized 197 artists to create their own “rooms” in cardboard boxes.

In 2006, Wilt spearheaded Adam and Eve, a touring exhibition where artists created their own versions of Adam and Eve in a 9X12 inch format. The exhibition originated at The Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti and toured to Holland, Michigan and the Chicagoland area.

Wilt’s solo exhibition entitled Ellen Wilt: A Sustained Vision was at the Detroit Focus Gallery in 1985, during her first year of retirement from teaching. In 2018, Stamps Gallery developed and presented a major retrospective entitled Materials On Hand: The Art of Ellen Wilt, featuring over 100 works by Wilt, spanning 50 years of her artistic career.

Over the course of her career, Wilt was duly recognized with numerous awards from the Michigan Watercolor Society, Washtenaw Council for the Arts, and the Holland Friends of Art.

Wilt was an active studio artist, creative force, and arts community organizer well into the ninth decade of her life. She started her last creative series in November 2019.

She is preceded in death by her husband Richard Wilt (1915-1981), an artist and University of Michigan art professor (1949-1978). She leaves behind daughter, artistic collaborator, and friend Robin Wilt.

Photo by Katherine Raymond

A celebration of Ellen Wilt’s life will be planned at a future date. In lieu of flowers a contribution can be made to the Ellen Wilt Endowed Scholarship at Eastern Michigan University.

In 2013, Stamps Associate Professor Stephanie Rowden created a 3-minute audio short featuring Wilt sharing her favorite recipe for baked chicken from the 1960 classic “I Hate To Cook Book” by Peg Bracken: listen here.