Thursday, May 20, 2010
I just finished building this sweet little tapestry loom from mahogany wood given to me by a friend. (Thanks Steve!) I wanted a little loom that I could fold up and take with me on weekend trips, even while warped. I also wanted a tapestry loom with real harnesses and a real reed. The weaving width is 24 inches and the over all dimensions are 41 inches high, 34 inches wide including handles and 33 inches deep. The reed, string heddles, ratchets and handles were all purchased from Camilla Valley Farms. The reed is held up with springs, which I released to show the reed on one of these pictures.
The shed under the reed is about 2 inches
The shed under the reed is about 2 inches
Posted by S E at 1:24 PM
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
We have always had a love / hate relationship with immigration, ever since the days of the Puritans. As children, we were told that the Puritans came to America for religious freedom, but the truth is a really more complicated than that.
The Reformation was underway throughout Europe, and with it came new ideas about the roles of the church and the roles of the state in the lives of citizens. The Puritans were at odds with the English monarchy over religious views and hoped to create a place where everyone believed as they did. The “puritans” wanted a pure religion, one base on the strictest interpretation of the Bible, and they wanted to purge the church of any influence from Rome. Puritans did not believe in religious liberty or personal freedom of conscience. They believed only in the religious freedom of others to agree with them and, in fact, they believed that God’s will required religious intolerance.
In 1625 Charles I, became the king of England. Charles I was an authoritarian ruler who married a Catholic and proceeded to crack down on the Puritans. To the Puritans of the day, it seemed that a refuge was needed and in 1627 they began planning the Massachusetts Bay Colony as that refuge. But even so, they were not entirely free to seek this refuge. The monarchy applied a sort of loyalty test when deciding who would be allowed to immigrate.
Religious intolerance in the New World resulted in a trials for those who dared to express differing opinions. Ann Hutchinson was one person who, because of her outspoken views, caused much controversy in the new colony. As a result, she was banished from Massachusetts and excommunicated from the church for her views in 1637. That summer, as ships entered the Boston harbor, the fisherman called out to the new immigrants, “the churches are on fire!” Many of the issues from those times, such as the separation of church and state, are still alive and well today.
In was into this environment that my ancestor, Matthew Whipple immigrated from England in about 1638 and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Intolerance is still with us, and during times of cultural uncertainty, we may unwittingly exaggerate any perceived threats to our way of life. In the past these threats have resulted in the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Nazis regime, and Mao’s attack on intellectuals, to name just a few.
In my woven hat Pilgrim, I depict our intolerance, past and present, through color, using black and silver to represent dark and light. The brim and crown of the hat are separated by a hat band of Bible verse, in black and white. This hat band represents the separation of church and state, but also the common basis of the laws of both. Hung at the hat band is a small lock and a set of keys. Will we use the lock as the Puritans did, to “lock” onto an intolerant view of others? Or, can we find the key to responding to threats and struggles without intolerance? Do we wish to lock out new immigrants, or make a place for them, as once was done for us?
Posted by S E at 10:11 PM
One of my first memories is of made-in-Japan toys that I received as a child. These toys were cheaply made and quickly broken. Years later, working in the corporate world where my company competed with much-improved Japanese products, I learned how American management consultants helped rebuild the Japanese economy after World War II. These consultants brought their management philosophies to Japan just when American companies were forgetting those same lessons. Eventually we lost much of our high technology manufacturing base to Japan, Taiwan, China, and Korea, and had to relearn the lessons we taught Japan after the war.
As I worked on this piece, I remembered the resentment my grandparent’s generation felt towards Japan as a result of their attacks on Pearl Harbor. I remembered stories about how Japanese-Americans were treated during the war, and about the atomic bombs we dropped on Japan. I was forced to reconcile these memories with modern Japan, a country that is now a close friend and valued trading partner.
But, my weaving is more than a reference to America’s long and complex history with Japan. It is also a reference to my family’s complex history with Japan. I had been told stories of my uncle, who died in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Then one evening, while watching the History Channel, I saw a story about US soldiers stationed in the Philippines. These American soldiers were attacked just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and were eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese. After several months of starvation rations, 75,000 US and Filipino solders were forced on a 60 mile march without food or water. This march became known as the Bataan Death March.
The surprising thing was, the soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March arrived in the place where I was told that my Uncle had died. Could my Uncle have been one of the 335 men of the 7th Material Squadron, 19th Bomb Group? After searching the internet, I found a web site that contained the history of these men. One of the documents pictured there was a notebook keep by a Sgt. Stuckey. There, on one of the last pages, was the name of my Uncle, Lloyd Whipple, with a note that he had died in July of 1942. According to Army Air Force records, he died of malaria. He had been a strong farm boy, which probably allowed him survive the Bataan Death March, only to die later of malaria. He had been in the service for less than a year, arriving in the Philippines a little over a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
We never got my Uncle’s body back. His surviving fellow soldiers were not liberated until close to the end of the war, several years later.
My family lost one family member during World War II, but some time later we gained another family member as a Japanese war bride.
Like many people, my family has been forced to revise our views of Japan and its people. In my work, I illustrate the complexity of these experiences by combining the traditional Geisha hairstyle form with memory boards to juxtapose the old Japan with the new; the traditional Japan with the modern manufacturing dominance of the Far Easter countries. Memory boards and computer chips exist all over my house, in everything from my coffee maker, to my bathroom scale, to the Japanese cars in my driveway. Almost all of the products we now buy were manufactured in a Far East that didn’t exist when I was a child.
I wonder, what would my Uncle think of this turn of events?
Posted by S E at 10:07 PM
One day while shopping a few blocks from my home, I came across a Muslem family, a couple with a small boy. The woman was dressed in a head-to-toe black chador and a burkha that covered even her eyes. It was summer, and I was dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt. I smiled at the little boy and was rewarded with a menacing look from his Father. He was obviously threatened by my dress and the forwardness of my smile. Life in the United States must be difficult for this Muslem immigrant because he is constantly faced with fashions and symbols he considers improper. For this man, did my fashion illustrate what is wrong with the present, predict changes for his future, or both?
The West has a long history of misunderstanding Middle Eastern fashion. We see the belly dancer as a seductress, but she is an artist who has studied her craft to perfect the motion and symbolism of each move, much as a ballet dancer would. The West sees the draped Muslem woman as repressed, but she may be making a political statement or celebrating an Islamic revival using the symbols of her own culture. Muslem school girls have been expelled for wearing the hijab in France and Sikhs have been prevented from wearing full orthodox clothing in Canadian schools.
After the Shah of Iran was overthrown in the Islamic revolution of 1979, many Iranian women adopted the head-to-toe chador as a symbol of protest against the West. What we either don’t know, or have forgotten, is that the chador was banned by the Shah’s father from 1935 to 1941 because it did not look modern enough. This forced fashion, in the interest of Westernization, was resented by many women in Iran, and when given the opportunity, they voted with their clothes!
Some fundamentalists in the Middle East would like to ban all traditional woman’s dance, and those dancers who want to learn this old art, often must do so in private. The fashion and cultural struggles within the Muslem world demonstrate the conflicts between liberal and fundamentalist views, between forces that value traditional arts and those that would ban them altogether.
The word Harem refers to the private women’s quarters of a Muslem house. My references in this piece are intended to be mixed up and contradictory, like the Western view of the Muslem world. This weaving is shaped like a Middle Eastern dancer’s headpiece with a sheer scarf hanging from the point of the cone, but the face is covered by a knit wire mesh, itself covered with United States pennies except for the location of the eyes. In a Middle Eastern dancer’s costume, coins are usually strung around the hips, where they make a pleasant sound when the woman moves. In Harem, the coins cover the face like the burkha often worn by Muslem women, referencing both the exposure and concealment of the female body. The dancer reveals her body and draws attention to it, the burkha conceals. Our society, represented by the pennies, misunderstands. The pennies also signify unstoppable Western influences such as the internet, and along with it, Western ideas of women’s dress. These influences cannot help but effect cultures everywhere, including those in the Middle East.
The Western financial interests in Middle Eastern oil riches would seem to require us to understand this area of the world, but yet we are confused.
Posted by S E at 9:57 PM
My piece Coolie / Yellow Peril represents a personal memory as well as American history. For one year, my last year of high school, my family moved to California. My boyfriend that year was a fellow student and young Chinese man. That year was also the 100th anniversary of the completion of the trans-continental railroad, and California was getting ready to celebrate. To my surprise, at any mention of the event, my boyfriend became furious. He explained to me the history of the Chinese immigrants, treated like slave-labor by the railroad companies who connected America’s coasts together. These men, who were so critical to the building of the railroad, were not even allowed at the ceremony in Utah that marked the joining of the East and West coasts.
In the 19th century, when the country was expanding west, Chinese immigrants, mostly young men, came in great numbers to help as farm workers. In 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which was in place until 1943. This law prohibited Chinese immigrants, however, the timber, mining, and railroad industries - and others - needed these workers. So smugglers brought immigrants from southern China and Hong Kong to British Columbia, where they crossed over into the United States at night. Does this sound familiar?
My vision of the trans-continental railroad had been simplistic; to me it represented just a technical advance for transportation and commerce. But my boyfriend understood the price his immigrant ancestors paid for America’s advancement.
A small toy railroad track runs around the outer circumference of my woven coolie hat shaped piece, a reminder of both the difficulties faced by early Chinese immigrants, and of my own education on this topic. The railroad track, in its toy form, also references the way in which Chinese immigrants were depicted as unsophisticated and child-like in the media and cartoons of the day.
This piece reminds the viewer that our own ethnic reference points can limit our view of history, just as they did mine. Progress for one group may represent hardship for another. Unless we can consider history from multiple points of view we will not understand the entire story. But can we ever understand all points of view? I doubt it. I hope to remind all of us that our personal view is limited and that all immigrants play a part in building our country.
Posted by S E at 9:55 PM
My paternal Grandfather was a German man who immigrated from Russia at about the age of 10 in 1910. When he arrived, he spoke German and Russian, but no English. As a child, I was fascinated by this experience, and begged him to tell me stories of the “old country.” He would not. From other family members, I learned only that the family had moved from Germany to Russia at the beginning of the 19th century to start a farming operation.
Then recently, I came across some papers of my Father’s and discovered that the family had immigrated from an area that used to be knows as Bessarabia. Bessarabia is an area that sits on the north-west side of the Black Sea. After doing some research, I was able to piece the story together.
Russia and Turkey fought a war from 1806 to 1812. At the end of the war, the peace treaty know as the Treaty of Bucharest, gave this area to Russia. But, at the time, the area was populated by Russian peasants, who knew little about farming. In order to build up the agricultural capability of the area, Czar Alexander I made lucrative offers to German farmers, enticing them to immigrate in order to start farms. The first German farmers arrived in 1814.
But this area has always been politically troubled. During the 19th century it became a part of Moldavia, and, after the War of Romanian Independence, it became Romanian.
Then in 1903, came the Kishinev Pogrom, which slaughtered Jews in the area. A second pogrom followed in 1905. Although Jews were the primary targets, feelings of nationalism were raising in Romania and my Christian ancestors were Auslanders, outsiders, in their own homes. 1905 was also the year of the first Russian Revolution.
At the same time, tensions were raising in nearby Turkey, and these tensions would eventually escalate into the Turkish massacre of Armenian Christians in 1915. No wonder my Grandfather didn’t want to tell me stories of the old country!
So, in about 1910, part of my family moved to the United States and part moved to what would eventually become East Berlin. How lucky I am to be from the side that immigrated to the United States! They arrived at Ellis Island, and purchased the longest train ticket that they could afford. That ticket took them as far as Dodge, North Dakota. What a shock it must have been, to trade the rich soil and warm climate of the area around the Black Sea for the winters of North Dakota, and soil so poor it was only good for grazing!
This woven piece titled Ausländer, reminds me of what all immigrants must feel at some point, the feeling of being an outsider in a place that should feel like home. It was inspired, in part, by the headpiece worn by my paternal Grandmother on her wedding day, a day in which she left her home to create another home for herself and her family. My family had to immigrate several times in order to find home, but throughout, they were farmers, and that fact is referenced by the vegetable fibers braided into the piece. I use white wool to reference weddings and new beginnings, feathers to represent the search for peace, and gold wire to represent the hope that the new land will provide prosperity. Aren’t these the dreams of all immigrants?
Posted by S E at 9:45 PM
I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be Black in America. I didn’t even meet a Black person until I was in the sixth grade. That year, about fifteen miles away, the Army Corps of Engineers was working on the largest earth-filled dam in the world, the Garrison Dam on Lake Sakakawea. Most of the children went to school on the army base, but one young Black girl attended my school for a few months. At recess on her first day, we all gathered around her, to talk to her and to touch her!
I was curious about this Black girl. To me and my classmates she was new and exotic. What would have been my response, and the response of my all-white, town in the middle of the Dakotas, if we had been asked to accommodate forty or fifty Black children? And how did she feel as the subject of our curiosity? I will never know the answers to these questions.
As with many artists, I think of the creation of my work as an act of meditation. Weaving is a tedious task, and its repetitive nature causes my mind to wonder. As I wove, I remembered that little Back girl. I remembered the Black women I worked with in the corporate world and particular conversations I’d had with them. One Black friend described the challenges of managing Black hair and how these difficulties, and the Black traditional clothes contributed to the use of kerchiefs that became part of the Aunt Jemima icon.
My woven piece Aunt Jemima references the African people who immigrated, voluntarily or not, to the United States. This headpiece is woven in the red and yellow plaid pattern of the kerchief typical of old advertisements for Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.
In Aunt Jemima, I combine my wonder at this “exotic” young girl with some of the emotional history of ethnic relationships in America. The shape of the headdress itself represents this curiosity because it references the head kerchief Black women traditionally used to hide the color and texture of their hair. The weaving incorporates golden colored copper wire into the traditional yellow and red pattern, using the ancient attraction of shiny things to represent the wonder I felt as I met my first Black girl.
On the original pancake syrup bottle, Aunt Jemima wears large round golden earrings, but in my piece her earrings are small nooses, a reference to lynching parties in the South. The shiny material is meant to attract the eye, but the viewer who looks closely will see the noose earrings and remember the darker side of the Black experiences in America.
In my work I represent our misunderstanding of other races by removing the human head in my displays. In this piece, the absent head also mirrors the invisibility and lack of a voice experienced by Black people and other minorities in this country. Despite what I know of history, I can only represent my misunderstanding of the culture of the “other.” I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be Black in America
Posted by S E at 9:41 PM