This is the antepenultimate post about the Boxes of Mystery sent to me from all over the world, the materials gathering phase for the Inheritance Project -- what became a year-long crowd-sourcing effort -- during which contributors from many countries sent boxes of domestic linens they either found or were ready to pass on to me as the final inheritor. The process has been beautiful (love process), the narratives have been moving (love stories), sometimes sad (love a good cry), and the administration for this effort has been overwhelming with all the organizing, laundering, pressing, photography and correspondence (love staying on top of things, but this has been tricky). Did I mention I made every contributor a teeny tiny doily as a thank you? And some got two?
BUT. The effort has been worth it. Not only have I met wonderful people from all over the world (thank you, Instagram), but I've also been awarded two 2018 solo shows based on the work I plan to produce from these items, and I just found out I received a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant, which will help cover studio expenses and/or childcare for the next year so I can actually...you know...have something to hang in a gallery (besides laundry).
A friend of mine recently joked that I could always hang that 30-foot dragon in the gallery (a different project I've been deep into for the last 2 months, and will be installed in a week...more on that soon). It's been busy around here.
Meanwhile, below are the contributors for the 20th Boxes of Mystery.
Thank you, Boel Werner from Sweden -- long time friend, children's book illustrator and artist. Boel was one of the first people to send a Box of Mystery to Alaska and I have a stunning collection of hand-crocheted Swedish grytlappar (pot holders) to work with as a result. You can see the contents of her previous Boxes of Mystery here and here. While the Americans have thrift stores and the Australians have op shops, the Swedes have loppis and it's not unusual to receive a photo from Boel with the message, "Can you use these? How about this?" She has just as difficult a time walking away from unwanted domestic linens as I do. She's my Swedish Rainbow Connection.
This Box of Mystery held an additional "Envelope of Mystery"... inside a tiny silver grytlapp pendant that Boel made for me. She's since gone on to make a doily pendant using the teeny tiny thank you I made as the mold. I feel like my friendship with Boel -- a woman I met in 2004 at a children's book conference in L.A. -- is such a beautiful example of how symbiotic the relationship can be between women and their work. It should always feel this easy with people.
History & Treasure.
Thank you Lynette Fisk. This is the second group of items she's sent, the first were included in The 17th boxes of mystery post. As before, she carefully documented the provenance of each item as best she could. Thank you for your time, Lynette. These items are wonderful, zany and make me smile.
"...I love old crochet pieces, but my absolute favorite 'doilies' are knitted. We have 5 including one large (36" diameter) antimacassar my mother used to put across the back of the couch. During and after WWII, my mother and her mother-in-law-sent care packages of coffee, chocolate, clothing and other necessaries to relatives in post-war Germany. The relatives sent back photos, letters and gifts of hand-knitted lace! This week we found the folder of letters, photos of children and notes about what they sent. That is a treasure!"
Many thanks to Suzanne Williams from West Virginia for sending embroidered dresser scarves and doilies of various origin, most unknown and some very large. She layered the items in a box with descriptions on pastel sheets paper carefully rolled around each colorful, sweet group. Many thanks for your time Suzanne. These old things deserved your consideration and care. I'm so happy to receive them.
Antepenultimate is a word we should use more often. I'm happy to throw it around a bit more: antepenultimate, antepenultimate, antepenultimate.
Go use that word today.
Boxes of Mystery posts, on the home stretch....my gratitude to everyone who's hung in there with me.
Obviously there are times when something's gotta give and for the last several weeks, among other things, it's been tending this blog. The large public art project I'm finishing will be installed in December, so I've temporarily put personal work aside to focus my attention there. The boxes of mystery I'm sharing here arrived in Alaska at the end of August and beginning of September and there are about 4 more posts about the crowdsourced vintage linens I received for the Inheritance Project, so if you haven't seen your shipment profiled yet, please hang in there.
It's been a little intense around here.
If you didn't know me and you didn't know my mom, you'd probably look at this picture and think there was some kind of crazy argument going on here. Actually, it's two Swedes getting into some serious crowdsourced domestic linen organization. When my parents visited Alaska in August, a bunch of shipments for the Inheritance Project needed to be gone through, the correspondence filed and the laundry picked up where I'd left off a few months before.
And when I say laundry, I mean laundry.
And then I found out my mom was staying up until 10 pm ironing linens each night in my studio after we'd all gone to bed, so it was time to stop all that nonsense and produce an actual Alaskan vacation for her.
And a bear.
Having my parents here was a huge help -- they also helped install a piece of public art in a library (different from the one I'm currently working on).
Below are the boxes of mystery that arrived at about this same time. It's been good to go back and look at summer photos since, hey, it recently snowed.
My gratitude to Tracie Savo-Bolack for sending this one doily. It is the size of my hand, fingers outstretched, but she wrote so much about her grandmother, Lena Scinto-Ferraro, that the small work may as well fill an entire room. A bit of what she shared:
"...She and my grandfather would wake each night around 2 am, have a sandwich together and return to their separate bedrooms. When you looked into her small, perfectly round brown eyes, you saw kindness. For every mile walked, there were equal miles of thread run through her fingers, doily after doily. The rhythmic movements taking her someplace else, or maybe within? I wish I'd asked her when I had the chance...."
"...Now that I've had my own children, I cannot imagine handing a three-year old a needle and thread, but she did. And that afternoon, which I can still see so clearly, showing me how to sew buttons onto an old sock for a hand puppet (God, how I wish I still had it), she set me on a course to keep needle and thread in my hands (and life) forever, to pass on and awaken in me what was already in her, a stout Italian woman, a needlewoman."
I am honored to inherit such a legacy. Thank you Tracie for your generosity of object, narrative and spirit.
I have a strong connection to libraries. Our main branch in Anchorage is under renovation so our normal every-other-week jaunt has been a disrupted over the past several months. Our family is looking forward to the dust settling and we aren't alone.
Many thanks to Sherri Douglas, Assistant Director for Public Services for the Anchorage Public Library for this box of mystery. She and I have worked an many projects together over the years, from poster artwork, to painted kiosks, to 30-foot dragons. When my children were small they always looked for her at the Youth Services desk, shyly whispering, "Oh, there's our librarian," or hanging on my pant leg asking, "Mama, where's our librarian?"
She shared an enormous holiday tablecloth crocheted by her paternal grandmother, a hand embroidered apron from Russia (?), a tea towel she embroidered with mushrooms in 1968 and an unfinished cross stitch made by a dear exchange student from Thailand. I'm honored to receive such things from a friend.
More to come soon.
I've received some exciting news in the last month or so -- my application for a solo show at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau has been accepted! This new museum (on the site of the previous one -- some say it "swallowed the old museum" -- but in a good way) combined with the State Archives and cut the ribbon last May. "Inheritance: makers. memory. myth" will be installed November 2018 after showing at the Anchorage Museum May - Sept. 2018. This traveling exhibition will be the body of work created from a year's worth of gathering, collecting, inheriting old cloth and domestic linens from contributors all over the world. I'm now turning my attention out of state for 2019. Maybe it will come to a location near you?
But wait. I have to make the work first. And before I do that, I have to finish a dragon.
Which is why I stopped accepting contributions to the Inheritance Project on September 30, 2016. But then why am I still blogging about them? Because I have SO MANY Boxes of Mystery still to share! This group of items below came to me around the end of August when the days were much longer in Alaska and we weren't turning our faces to the sky seeking snow.
Blue envelope of mystery.
Many of you probably already know, or at least know the work of, Kathleen Probst. If you don't, you should click on that link. Her work is immediately recognizable, arresting and beautiful in its skill and simplicity. I know she was scrambling to finish a submission to a big show the week she sent this to me (because I follow her on Instagram and we sometimes get way chatty), so I'm honored she took the time to send me an Envelope of Mystery. She's a busy woman: artist, teacher, mom.
I so get it.
Thank you Kathleen for the sweet handkerchiefs. She writes:
"My grandparents, Marian Inman (1904 - 1987) and Charles Inman (1891 - 1975) both carried handkerchiefs their entire lives. These were found in the their Cooperstown home after my grandmother died. They were both teachers in Brooklyn, NY. that is how they met. My grandmother was not one to knit or sew (or even bake for that matter). These handkerchiefs have probably found their way to countless libraries, golf courses and trips both across the country and abroad. These everyday items wear the lives of my grandparents."
Kathleen and I have spoken on the phone, but not in person. Soon, though, right? You, too, can follow Kathleen on Instagram: @mod_in_your_eye.
And THAT is a brilliant handle, right up there with "Rubber Duck." (Yes, I'm a child of the '70's)
Thank you Ann Duggan for sending such beautiful old cloth from Ireland. If I remember correctly, Ann was visiting Homer, Alaska and saw my work in the Bunnell Street Arts Center gallery and our correspondence continued when she returned home. The pieces she sent have come via the Sherwood Family (her grandfather was one of the boys at 7 Parnell Street, Wexford) and from a neighboring house's Miss Doyle (no. 3 Richmond Terrace, Spawell Road). Miss Doyle never married and when she died Ann discovered a house full of beautiful linens, china and silver all headed to the dump.
This is a common story many of us seem to share, with various levels and facets of participation -- from exasperated runs to the dump to pawing through items destined for that place.
It's complicated, isn't it?
Many thanks to LeeAnn Bartolini, who sent work (and photographs!) from her French paternal grandmother, Juliette Delaverhne Bartolini and her Mexican maternal great-grandmother, Eugenia Cabrera Ryan. What a beautiful legacy.
The piece below was also made by Juliette. Lee Ann pinned a note on it, which read, "I have no idea how she did this." Ahh, but I do. The last image is from the flip side. The cording is machine made, then manipulated and held in place with fine stitches and knot work that slips beneath the satin cord and emerges at the next point of connection. She may have had a paper template to work on. If anyone knows the name of this kind of work, I'd love to hear what it is and/or the origins of such a thing.
My deep gratitude to these contributors as well as the contributors still waiting to have their items shared here in this space. Please know that I take my time with each of these things because I know the contributors did as well. I will skip a week of posting rather than dash off a piece of writing just to get it out there.
This attitude doesn't make me a good blogger, but it does make an amazing archive. If you would like to see a list of all the contributors, makers and the full set of posts so far, please click here and scroll down.
If you would like a newsletter, you can sign up with your email address. This does not mean you will receive a newsletter. I have never written a newsletter. This fact has gone beyond keeping me up at night and now is just an opportunity for self deprecation.
But won't we all be surprised when it actually happens? Best to follow using Facebook, Instagram or an RSS feed (which I like for blogs because then they don't clog my inbox and I can get to them when I have time).
When you say you'll take a box of mystery, you relinquish control over what will be sent. You also relinquish control over old memories you thought were long gone, like that memory about playing at Annie Comstock's* house, and how you kept asking to go back and play, despite the way she ignored you at school, despite her older brother's Stretch Armstrong toy that extended across the hallway and whipped heavy when thrown at you, despite her mother who wasn't as warm as your mother (or very warm towards your mother), despite the birthday party when all the other 2nd or 3rd grade girls held you out of the locked-arm-circle game. Despite all this, Annie had a sun-filled pink bedroom, with a white-framed bed and gingham cover and canopy, a white dollhouse, expensive toys, and a Barbie "bed doll," so you knew exactly where to go hide during the mean-girl birthday party.
You probably also forgot about the student art show in undergrad when everyone spent a lot of time considering all the melted Barbies in the toasters, liquified in blenders and paninied beneath domestic irons. That experience was, after all, utterly forgettable.
What isn't forgettable is that this Friday, September 30, 2016, I will no longer be able to accept items for the Inheritance Project. Now, it might seem like I'm still accepting Boxes of Mystery since I currently have 4-5 unpublished blog posts stacked up like Barbies on a wood pile and they'll be forthcoming over the next couple of months. But really. After the 30th...no more quizzical looks from our mailman.
Below are the contributors to the 17th boxes of mystery for the Inheritance Project, all electrified probes for my own memory:
Many makers in the family
Thank you Lynette Fisk, for the large box of mystery and for taking the time to document the provenance of each item. I love that your mother saved all these things, all created by the women in your family. I'm honored that you've shared this with me for my work.
Thank you Debra Steinmann for the linens left by your Grandma Eva Baker, I'm so happy you've been able to use her handwork for your own creative work as well. I'm also touched by what you wrote about the linen sleeve you included in the box of mystery:
"The sleeve with crocheted trim is from a wedding gift purchased by a friend's brother in Istanbul, Turkey (...) the wedding was between my friend Martha and her partner of decades, Anne. Love is love is love...
Thank you Nancy Frazier for sharing your family history with me for this project. Nancy is the only grand daughter of southern aunts, grandmother and a great grandmother, so she inherited "a great treasure" of crocheted items. Her lineage also includes a "courting quilt" that her great great grandmother and grandfather worked on in the mid 1800's (pre-Civil war) in the hills of Arkansas (it's stunning, she shared a photograph with me via email). She tagged almost everything with red tags.
I am so grateful for everyone's willingness to ship items to Alaska, to a complete stranger (me). The outpouring of generosity far surpassed anything I ever envisioned a year ago and speaks to the reverence we have towards the women who paved the way with flying fingers and poor lamp light.
If this September 30, 2016 deadline sneaked up on you, despite the fact that you were considering contributing to the Inheritance Project, I apologize -- but I have more than enough material after a year of gathering. I hope you'll continue to follow and see where this work goes from here.
On that front:
One of the works I created from a box of mystery has been invited to Quilt National, 2017 (!!!) and it wouldn't have happened without this old cloth and the unknown women's work that inspires me so. Big gratitude from Alaska.
You can follow best on Instagram and Facebook.
*names have been altered to protect mean 3rd grade girls.
If you are new to this blog and these posts about the Inheritance Project, please take a moment to go back and read a post from a year ago: A second box of mystery. This is a post devoted to one box from Sweden, back when the Inheritance Project wasn't a project with any sort of shape, or a name even, but a series of generous gestures, my thoughts about old cloth, and my gratitude to the senders. I re-read it today and was reminded of that initial impulse, and even though I don't dive as deeply on the page with these later posts, I still go there in my mind. I still wonder about all of these objects and their makers and owners. I still fear for the state of the world. I'm still equally inspired by the thoughts and stories the contributors have sent as I am to the old linens. I still hear voices. A friend of mind said she was worried for me -- for the way I was taking on all this energy -- and if this feels a little too "whoooo-hooooo" to you (insert wiggly fingers here), then think of it as a project with a beginning, a middle and an end.
The beginning, therefore, is nearly ending. After September 30th, 2016, I will be unable to take any more contributions. You may contact me to find out how to get items to me before then.
Below are the contributions belonging to the 16th boxes of mystery, wiggly fingers and all that:
Thank you Jan Teztlaff, who I met in Philadelphia at this year's SAQA conference. We shared a shuttle downtown from the airport and then back again, finding ourselves (I think) on the same airplane heading west. We were 2 of the 24 Lightning Talk presenters at the conference (Jan's talk was called Looking for Line). She and her daughter recently unpacked an antique trunk, which had belonged to her husband's grandmother, Juanita Masterson Millsap:
"...Most (treasures) we kept -- the handmade romper my mother-in-law wore as a toddler and the satin nightgown she wore on her honeymoon. We will treasure the impossibly small and tight wasted white eyelet dress Tom's grandmother wore, along with the minuscule boots."
I'm haunted and a little guilt-ridden by textiles of another era, these bits of cloth so vital to the domestic realm -- the antimacassar, for example: intended to protect the arms and backs of upholstered furniture from the oils of hand and hair. When was the last time you purchased a sofa with the intent that it would survive 60 years? And to what lengths are we now willing to go in order to preserve our possessions? I say this as I angrily stare at the downstairs sofa-sectional-slash-scratching post. Am I happy about this tiny domestic massacre in my home? No. But am I willing to de-claw my animals? No. Am I willing to shroud the sofa in an enormous antimacassar?
Huh. Hang on a minute.
The piece from Jan's collection that is most haunting is the hand stitched child's gauze face mask worn by her mother-in-law around 1900.
..."Maxine survived polio, typhoid, scarlet fever and influenza. She died a decade ago at the age of 90 of 'tired blood.'"
The final item is an embroidery kit sent in the mail from The Pricilla Needlework Co. in Boston to Orland, California. The printed pattern is pale blue on the silk, perhaps a child's smocked dress or christening gown. It cost 1 cent to mail, but the postmark doesn't indicate the date. One could make it today and it would be just as luminous and beautiful as the day it arrived in Orland.
Thank you, Jan, for such gorgeous history.
Thank you Ágnes Palkó, for sending linens from Sweden. The reason I sought out that second Box of Mystery post from a year ago, was the memory of other shipments that included scraps of cotton sheeting with crocheted trim. I have some still intact in my own linen closet -- the work of my Great Grandmother, Nanny. The work is so strong, it outlives the sheets, which have been bleached and sun-dried so many times they fall apart long before the loops and knots of tight-hooked edging.
Ágnes also sent a beautiful cross stitched tablecloth, used and used. Some of the crosses have disintegrated in areas and I can't imagine counting linen threads to make such a perfect pattern...with low lamp light and exhausted eyes, no less.
I am happy to receive such things. They smell like Sweden.
Thank you Ágnes.
Still Life, Pond.
Thank you, Beth Brennan, who found me on Instagram (you can find her at @still.life.pond) and sent a box heavy with the literal and emotional weight of memory. She wrote:
"...Use what you can. Feel free to dispose of anything you don't want, in any manner you see fit. I only wish my own inheritance had come with that disclaimer."
"It's a little hard for me to look at all the work that went into this. The stains must have been heartbreaking, but at least this tablecloth was used, unlike many other things folded safely away until they fell apart (...) This still smells like my mother's buffet where she stored her linens."
"This was one of those needlepoint canvases that had the design pre-stitched, the maker then filled in the background. I vaguely remember helping pick out the canvas design and yarn color for this when I was young (...) It was intended to be a chair for me, but (...) I have no desire to follow through with the original plan or make a pillow from it (...) I can see my grandmother too clearly in it."
Beth's thoughts on the cap, which both my daughter and I have tried on, yet it fits neither of us:
"I had never seen it until after her death. What is is? What did I mean to her? Is it a modest head covering from long, long ago? Is it some kind of death shroud? (...) Please set it and me free from each other. Things are meaningless without their stories."
Yes, things are meaningless without stories.
Which is why we have myth.
Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. will be a solo exhibition at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, May 2018. Last week, I submitted for a solo show elsewhere. And I will continue to submit proposals.
Many thanks to the contributors and makers (the list can be found here). I couldn't do this work without you.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.