I've been waiting for this photography exhibition.
I've been following it for a year on social media, where one image a day was posted -- portraits on weekdays, images of place on the weekends -- and I've cared about the importance of such an undertaking, not only because I have the privilege of living in Alaska, but also because I have the privilege of knowing the photographer, Brian Adams.
You've obviously noticed by now that I am no photographer. Welding an i-phone at last night's opening does zero justice to this exhibition. Folks, if you live in Anchorage, please visit the Anchorage Museum to see this work in person and read each of the interviews/descriptions alongside the 50 images (out of 500 medium format photographs) curated for this installation in the ConocoPhillips gallery, 2nd floor. For the rest of the world, please visit the I AM INUIT website, where you'll be blown away by the humanity and resonance of this project.
You can also follow I AM INUIT on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook where images and interviews are posted and archived. This exhibition is a part of the Anchorage Museum's Polar Lab series -- "a reflection of the cultural, political, commercial, artistic and scientific attraction exerted by the international Arctic and subarctic" -- which seeks to connect art, science and the environment through various exhibitions and programs.
Brian gave a well-attended talk on the evening of, February 24, 2017, despite the slippery roads and intermittent freezing rain. Alaskans come out to support our artistic community, especially for someone as talented and -- as many of us agreed -- as nice as Brian.
(Even my slinking-terrified-Bethel-rescued-neurotic cat likes him.)
The work will travel from here to various venues, with a goal to travel the exhibition to other circumpolar countries. Follow I AM INUIT to find out where it will be heading next. In the meantime, check out Brian's website for other important work such as Disappearing Villages and Standing Rock-The Black Snake.
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One year ago on this blog: A history of relics.
Two years ago on this blog: Finer.
Other posts about the Anchorage Museum:
AIDS memorial quilt in Alaska.
Sami stories in Alaska.
This post is part of the Inheritance Project -- the last of 23 posts in the gathering phase. Please follow that link if you'd like to learn more about this year-long crowdsourcing project, its inception and how it grew through the generosity of Contributors and Makers all over the world. This feels like a pivotal post. It feels final, but it's really just the beginning.
Below you'll find the final Boxes of Mystery. No, really.
I'm not kidding.
No more messing around.
But first, I have to go all data on you:
13 months crowdsourcing vintage linens
93 people contacted me -- and I replied to every single one, sometimes twice. (If you sent an email and feel I didn't respond -- yikes -- it's possible I've been hanging out in your spam filter).
23 boxes of mystery posts
20 known or presumed countries of origin
23 known or presumed US states where items originated or were found
300 - 350 makers -- mostly unknown (this, based on the number of items)
63 hand written thank you cards with teeny tiny doilies
20 minutes to make each teeny tiny doily
2 scheduled museum exhibitions
1 upcoming public art project planned through the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (this is new news -- not to be confused with fake news -- and more on this gets rolled out in a few months)
4 works in process
1 grant received from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, supporting ARTISTS AND WRITERS WITH CHILDREN. (Can I shout this from the roof tops?! This is my second time applying for this grant. Don't. Give. Up.)
1 grant in process (I find out in May)
1 Final Inheritor: me (but there's some sharing that'll happen...)
I've been up since 3:30 am AK time, because this is when I wake up now. I should be a stock broker. Except, I'm an artist. And sometimes a writer.
Thank you, Karla Carpenter, for agreeing to meet me at Alaska Pacific University last September and deliver your bag of mystery in person.
I was there to take down my part of a group show, Fragments of Time, which felt fitting when Karla arrived with her items -- all literally fragments of time. Most boxes of mystery have arrived in the mail, so I've rarely had an opportunity to look someone in the eye and say "thank you." This is probably a good thing since I get all weepy, and the wobbly chin, and the snot...
Most of Karla's items came from households of women in her family, but it wasn't 100% clear as to who made them or when, so some descriptions remain unknown.
"I understand that you will take old textiles to use in your artwork. I have about a dozen pieces, some with embroidery, some lace, some just beautiful old fabric. I would love to pass them on to you."
There are a number of constants across cultures, food and family seem obvious, but also handwork. This piece below is unique to Paraguay, a type of needle worked, loom stretched lace called "Nandutí" in the Guadaníi language. In English, this translates to "spider web." In 1969, Karla's friend purchased this stiff and fibrous piece in a small town outside Asunción. At the time, the weaver explained it would need to be returned to the loom for any cleaning, but that never happened.
The baby dresses and doll clothes came from Karla's mother, and accompanied her doll, Richard. It's hard to tell from these photos -- since they all appear to be the same scale -- but Richard's clothes are incredibly small. Pulled from a frothy jumble of linens, there is that staggering moment of fragility -- Could this have been a baby's? But no, not a real baby.
The following domestic linens (lace tablecloths, bureau scarves, pillow cases, dish cloths, apron) are from the households of Karla's grandmother, Helen Brewster Allured, and her great aunts Caroline and Gertrude Brewster.
One piece Karla did know intimately was this mid-20th century Persian lamb coat, purchased with her mother's very first paycheck. Her mother loved it and wore in in the way a young woman would, and Karla wore it as well. It's incredibly fragile now, no longer wearable, mended with hand stitches, metal staples and bunch of hope. Before she gave it to me, Karla removed a monogrammed fragment from the black crepe lining. This was all she wanted, needed.
I've always admired Persian lamb garments, and certainly understood they were made from lamb pelts, but didn't realize that the most choice pelts are derived from nearly full term fetuses. This is because within days of birth, the pelts begin to darken.
I tell you this, not as a political statement, nor as a judgey turd. I live in Alaska. Fur is a common thing born of cultural and elemental necessity; I own an Alaska Native made sea otter neck warmer that makes me sweat at 0 degrees F. No, I tell you this because sometimes the backstory of an object is the great impetus for creation. Narrative is the driver.
And when there is no narrative, there is myth. I sometimes think about all this material as the slivers that could create memoir, except for all those vacant expanses and failures of memory. It's an opportunity for a fictionalized version to get so much closer to a narrative truth.
The ways she is remembered.
My heartfelt thanks to Jan Livingston, for delivering this piece from her Slovenian-born grandmother, Johanna (Jennie) Dolinar Usenichnik, and for providing gorgeous photos from this woman's life. I've known Jan for many years, our connection knitted by our children (her's full grown, mine young) and a commitment to their small school. This doily is the last item officially accepted for the Inheritance Project.
"After losing four of her brothers to WWI, she emigrated to the US with a cousin, Marija Dolinar, traveling aboard the ship, "La Savoie," from its port in France to Ellis Island in March of 1921. The ship's manifest noted that they had no money at all (...) the cousins made their way to the coal-mining railroad town of Rock Springs, Wyoming."
I leave you with this tender photograph of Johanna Dolinar Usenichnik. I received hundreds of items labeled "Unknown," but this woman was known well. She was loved, and loved deeply in return.
As it should be.
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My gratitude to every person who took the time to send me an object, a box of mystery, a label, a letter, a comment. The work I'm currently engaged in would not have happened without the work of previous generations of women, literal, physical and emotional. I think about and am shaped by them all.
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For a comprehensive list of ALL the boxes of mystery, their senders and the contents, please visit the Inheritance Project page. Documentation was an important facet of this project and I worked hard to approach it all with reverence.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.