True colors

Bill Volckening ’84 didn’t set out to become an artist, quilt maker and collector, author and award-winning blogger. But that’s what happened — and he credits Peddie for much of it.

“Peddie fosters diverse interests among its students, and that’s one of the most important things I learned there,” he said.

Initially, visual art was a diversion for Volckening, an accomplished swimmer and restless student who had taken an art class “to get the credit out of the way.”

“(Art teacher) Katy Graham was co-teaching a photography class with (admissions counselor) Noah Hotchkiss,” remembered Volckening. “Katy really opened up something new for me. It wasn’t just photography after that. It was painting and drawing and all kinds of things.”

The rapid sea change that took place in Volckening’s life began to lead him down exciting new paths, earning him an Eastman Kodak award and creating momentum for the next step: higher-ed arts study. In his senior year, Graham became Volckening’s advisor and guiding force as he built a robust art portfolio.

“Within one year, without ever having taken an art class at Peddie, I was in — early — at Rhode Island School of Design,” he said. “It was almost like an identity crisis that could have gone terribly wrong, but it ended up going beautifully: I went from being a swimmer and athlete to being more of an artist.”

1970s quilt from The Volckening Collection

This 1970s polyester quilt is from The Volckening Collection.

Volckening went on to New York’s School of Visual Arts and then to graduate school at New York University International Center of Photography. In the early ’90s, he returned to Peddie as a volunteer swim coach.

Then, another path appeared: Volckening went to a private showing of antique quilts and was spellbound. It led to a 20-year “love affair” of collecting, appraising, lecturing and writing about quilts. Many pieces in Volckening’s collection have been showcased worldwide.

“I call myself a quilt magnet,” Volckening said. 

“Quilts represent the longest unbroken chain of women’s creative expression in the United States. They document history; they show the personality of the makers. They outlive us.”

During last Reunion Weekend, Volckening pointed out his name on The John Holmes Lubkert Memorial Prize for Creativity plaque in Swig Arts Center. 

“I was a really difficult student,” said Volckening. “Peddie is an amazing place for getting me through. It was every teacher who looked at me and didn’t give up. After a while, I wanted to make these people proud.”