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Women's Work

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This amazing fairy tale moment is a photograph of my grandmother in her Vermont farm house, just as I remember her. She is seen here making yarn on a spinning wheel from the wool of sheep she and my grandfather raised. Today I am celebrating Women’s Work.
Women’s Work is defined by Oxford’s Dictionary as: Work that is traditionally and historically undertaken by women, especially tasks of a domestic nature such as cooking, needlework, and child rearing.
Wikipedia defines Women's Work as: "work believed to be exclusively the domain of women and associates particular stereotypical tasks that history has associated with the female gender. It is particularly used with regard to the unpaid work that a mother or wife will perform within a family and household. The term "women's work" may indicate a role with children as defined by nature in that only women are biologically capable of performing them: pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. It may also refer to professions that involve these functions: midwife and wet nurse. "Women's work" may also refer to roles in raising children particularly within the home. It may also refer to professions that include these functions such as that of: teacher (up to the age of puberty), governess, nanny, day care worker, and au pair. "Women's work" may also refer to roles related to housekeeping such as: cooking, sewing, ironing, and cleaning. It may also refer to professions that include these functions such as: maid and cook. Though much of "women's work" is indoors, some is outdoors such as: fetching water, grocery shopping or food foraging, and gardening."
These old fashioned basics of living, once considered to be Women’s Work, were shunned by my grandmother’s daughters as they went off into the world to have “important careers”. As was common in the 70’s, these young women dismissed the knowledge imparted by their mothers and fore-mothers. They put behind them all that was considered Women’s Work, choosing different paths. However, while those daughters enjoyed their new found feminist power and freedom in the workforce, seeking all the “Me” they could be, they forgot to raise their own daughters. Looking from the outside, as a forgotten daughter, it seems our mothers made empty and unsatisfying choices. The 70’s mothers, at least the ones I am referring to, were unable to find balance, leaving damaged children and families in their self empowered wake.
Thankfully I was fortunate enough to have two smart, talented women as my grandmothers; women who knew and shared the value of “Women’s Work”. While I only knew my grandmothers for the first decade of my life, they were there during the most important formative years, where the core of a person is shaped. I am eternally grateful that it is their influences that seemed to make the most significant impression on my psyche. From my grandmothers I learned valuable skills that continue to sustain my daily life. I learned how to care for and nurture animals, how to sew, embroider, knit and paint, how to bake, how to prepare vegetables from the garden, how to find food in the forest, and how to believe in myself enough to be able to make pretty much anything from scratch. My grandmothers exposed me to the wonder and beauty of art in numerous forms, one grandmother made gorgeous quilts and hand sewn dolls, the other, created amazing folk art paintings with found objects and rough boards from my grandfather's saw mill, and they both knit and created an endless array of beautiful gifts for their families. Through their example, they taught me love, patience, kindness, creativity, imagination, ingenuity and the value of hard work.
When it came time for me to be a mother, I knew what ideals I would be bringing to my family, what examples I would choose to emulate and which ones I would not. Occasionally I think my younger self would not be proud of the woman I turned out to be, that she would not understand my life choices looking in from the outside. My life “on paper” seems a far stretch from my early feminist ideals. However, it really isn’t that much of a stretch. I have always been this person, with these same core values; I’ve just chosen to express them in diverse ways through my life and art.
As I currently review old works from my days at Parsons, especially while I edit the Women as Pattern series, I’m seeing a respectful nod to my grandmothers and their Women’s Work. While I cannot claim to have any relationship to the Pattern and Decoration Movement (as it was before my time), I do remember being inspired by it; and absorbing some of the essential aesthetics that enabled me to create art with my own meaning and intent.
According to Wikipedia: “Pattern and Decoration was a United States art movement from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The movement has sometimes been referred to as "P&D" or as The New Decorativeness. The movement was championed by the gallery owner Holly Solomon. The movement was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Hudson River Museum in 2 Background and influences.
The Pattern and Decoration movement consisted of artists, many of whom had art education backgrounds, who had been involved with the abstract schools of art of the 1960s. The westernized, male dominated climate of artistic thought throughout Modernism had led to a marginalization of what was considered non-Western and feminine. The P&D movement wanted to revive an interest in minor forms such as patterning which at that point was equated with triviality. The prevailing negative view of decoration was one not generally shared by non-Western cultures.
The Pattern and Decoration movement was influenced by sources outside of what was considered to be fine art. Blurring the line between art and design, many P&D works mimic patterns like those on wallpapers, printed fabrics, and quilts.
These artists also looked for inspiration outside of the United States. The influence of Islamic tile work from Spain and North Africa are visible in the geometric, floral patterns. They looked at Mexican, Roman, and Byzantine mosaics; Turkish embroidery, Japanese woodblocks; and Iranian and Indian carpets and miniatures.”
The Pattern and Decoration movement helped to redefine the line between fine art and craft. Like many feminist artists before me, I too incorporated craft elements into my paintings because of to their association with women, femininity and my own relationship with, and understanding of Women’s Work. P&D artists saw the history of Women’s Work, particularly domestic crafts, as a forgotten canon that could be reclaimed as a source of contemporary expression. It was the P&D artist’s enthusiastic embrace of multiculturalism and multiplicity that encouraged and inspired me to borrow snippets from other cultures and sources, such as quilts, wallpapers, rugs and printed fabrics. I continue to use patterns in my paintings as a means to reassert the value of ornamentation and aesthetic beauty, qualities that are normally assigned to the feminine sphere. Inspired by the P&D movement, I too combined disparate elements to form new meanings. This multicultural mixing and matching became crucial to my creative process, resulting in a new development for my personal style and symbolism. Before I was aware there was a movement, Pattern and Decoration had always come natural to me; details have been my bread and butter since early days and continue to be one of the defining points of my style. For some reason I thrive in the tedium. If I had to describe my current personal style, the word opulence comes to mind. The Legend of Hare Terra is full of Pattern and Decoration. It is a body of work that I created to serve the viewer a lasting experience, one that will require time to fully decode.
Much like the decoding I am attempting to do in the Women as Pattern series. I am not going to lie; some of the work has left me scratching my head, wondering what the specific meaning and intent was? Was I aware that what I was creating would be considered shocking and disturbing to even myself twenty years later? I couldn’t say, but I do have to wonder what my grandmothers would think. I’ll let you see for yourself and maybe you can figure out what I was working to accomplish? Stay tuned, I plan to post the Women as Pattern series on my website soon.
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