TRAVERSE CITY — Retired college art professor Paul Welch spins in a slow circle, locking eyes with the dozens of memories that surround him.
Photographs, film, sculpture, paintings and textiles — 64 works by 30 artists — catch his gaze. Each one more than just art or a statement from the artist who created it. They are Welch’s life’s work.
Decades of Traverse City artists toiled over the pieces that hang from walls and stand on pedestals inside the Traverse City Art & Design Studio. Welch in 1963 started the art program at Northwestern Michigan College.
“These are my former students,” Welch, 80, said. “It’s kind of a shrine. It’s quite a show to put on logistically.”
The “Three Decades of Art of NMC” show launched in late March and continues until the end of May. It is a collection of works created by the program’s former students. The artists — all successful in their chosen medium — include the likes of photographer John Russell, filmmaker Richard Brauer, painter Kathleen Murphy and quilter Jim Hay.
Welch’s students scattered to the wind after graduation. Some of them left NMC to pursue careers outside the arts. Others built careers through sculpture, painting or photography.
Hay, a former Olivet College sculpture instructor, now lives in Japan. His quilt, “Lost Moon King (Hope)” recently won a Japanese national quilting award. His quilt hangs on display as part of the show. It is a tribute to the people killed and the damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami the struck the country.
“It was all rolled up in a box,” Welch said as he described the first time he set eyes on the quilt. Pieces of colorful fabric intertwine with model cars and trucks littering the the chaotic landscape surrounding a person dressed in a kimono holding a broom at the quilt’s center. “It represents all those wonderful people lost.”