In this body of work, the role of women in patriarchal societies is explored through the reimagining of various antique objects. The objects that have been selected hold histories of domesticity, functionality, women’s handcraft, recreational pursuits, and valuation of personhood. They were made by and used by women, and at times, used to keep women within the domestic domain or, conversely, used by women to break free from their prescribed roles.
In Over Our Heads, original designs are beaded onto a number of antique bonnets, caps, and headpieces in an interrogation of verbal expressions that describe mind-sets, attitudes, and dreams, particularly in reference to women. Expressions such as “mind full of butterflies” and “bee in her bonnet” have been used to suppress curiosity, exploration, or emotion in women living in patriarchal societies. The original pieces were handcrafted by women in various historical contexts from textiles using construction, tailoring and sewing techniques. The works of these women have become anonymous and all that remains of their identity are their stitches and unique ways of working. It’s interesting to contemplate the women who wore these garments, who are also cloaked in anonymity, possibility the creators of the pieces and possibility not. What were the relationships between these women, maker and wearer? What were their lived experiences, dreams and aspirations?
In On Our Beds, vintage copper machine embroidery plates and elaborate hand-embroidered linen pieces are reimagined as a quilt. Each small copper plate represents a myriad of individual women in the form of an initial, and their respective dowries. The handcrafted linen pieces were historically much more expensive than the machine embroidered pieces and would secure a higher status marriage for their holders. Of course, such expensive pieces were rare, and the machine embroidered dowries were much more common, hence the number of copper plates in the quilt far outnumbers the linen pieces. In an ironic twist, in contemporary times the copper plates themselves are of far greater monetary value than the linen pieces which can be found in thrift-store dollar bins. The contrasting materials, copper and hand-embroidered linen, tell a story about the valuation of women, their different stations in life, things that were assigned by accident of birth, and the shared threads that bound them together.