Belle S. Spafford, outgoing president of the National Council of Women and former general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wore a borrowed 55-cent dress to the formal dinner honoring her service to the organization .
When her colleagues suggested the dress looked as if it cost hundreds of dollars, Spafford (Relief Society president from 1945 to 1974) baffled the others with her explanation. “This dress was made from a remnant of drapery fabric, clearance thread and a zipper. It is a grand example of creativity and making do with what you have,” she said at the time.
The resourcefulness and skills of Relief Society women worldwide are being showcased in a new exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art: Something Extraordinary: A Sampler of Women’s Gifts. The exhibit opened Saturday, 12 May 2007, and runs through January 2009.
Spafford’s 55-cent dress is among the more than 60 items selected for the new exhibit.
Stretching resources and expanding opportunities has long been the maxim of the Relief Society, an organization for the women of the Church founded in 1842 by Joseph Smith, the Church’s first president.
Marjorie Conder, curator at the museum, explained: “Since the founding of Relief Society over 150 years ago, Latter-day Saint women around the world have performed countless acts of compassion and service. This service has been extraordinary, and it has created a legacy of sisterhood and expanding opportunities for the Relief Society.”
Julie B. Beck, current general president of the Relief Society, described the values of the organization in individual lives. When she was a child, her mother was asked to organize the first Relief Society in Brazil.
“For five years I watched her collect women together, to bring their skills together, their handwork and their talents, and build that organization where they can support each other, strengthen their homes and families, learn skills, improve their lifestyles and become educated together,” she said.
Among the other historically significant entries in the current exhibit is the 1842 minute book used by the founders of the Relief Society to record the proceedings of their meetings.
Unusual and inspiring works of art illustrate selected quotations from the minute book. Everyday objects and contemporary expressions of talent and service define the worldwide legacy of sisterhood in the Relief Society organization.
The exhibit includes quilts and other textile arts, paintings, sculptures, Native American pottery, historic music and tributes to female composers, cookbooks and many other items that help tell the stories of Relief Society.
The exhibit also features a Grammy Award given to Gladys Knight, a convert to the Church, and one of the most successful female music artists in the history of American popular music. Her Grammy for the Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album for One Voice represents the diversity and talents of Latter-day Saint women in the 21st century.
The exhibit also honors the original founder of the humanitarian kits that are now provided by the Church in worldwide relief efforts. RoseAnn Gunther and other women from American Fork, Utah, created prototypes for school, newborn and hygiene kits that are now assembled by many Relief Society groups and distributed throughout the world by the LDS Humanitarian Center.
Distinctive quilts mark the exhibit and stand out as colorful reminders of one of Relief Society’s favorite humanitarian activities, quilt making.
An unusual artifact is a 19th-century hair wreath created by a group of Church volunteers from Manti, Utah, as a representation of their sisterhood. Hair samples from each sister are woven into a variety of floral patterns. In that time period, hair wreaths were a common symbol of love and remembrance.
Another unique piece, an Ashanti chief’s stool from the government of Ghana, was presented to Virginia Cutler, a Relief Society sister and former dean of the College of Family Living at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. The stool recognizes Cutler’s contributions in upgrading the homemaking skills in that country and many parts of the world as well as the power an individual possesses to make life-changing contributions across the globe.
Conder, the museum curator, described the eclectic collection as something that represents the gifts and talents of the Relief Society women who “span the generations and the geographic boundaries of a worldwide organization.”