Inheritance is a project I've worked on for nearly 3 years. It began in 2015 when a woman in New York state sent me a box of mystery filled with linens and vintage garments, and based on the response I received from sharing that story online, I officially crowdsourced more household, handmade/hand-embroidered cloth, along with associated stories. I offered to become the final inheritor of it all, even though most of the origins and makers were Unknown.
Also unknown, was what a body of work made from cast off, abandoned, sometimes-unwanted, or even still-loved-but-burdensome objects would look like. Even when I submitted the proposal to the Anchorage Museum in 2016, I had little to show, but must have been convincing in my direction. I gave up so much control over my materials during the course of this project that it's changed the way I work. After 12 years in the clothing industry, I already endure a rocky relationship with clothing and fabric, but after this exercise in mindfulness, strange abundance and deep emotional dives, I have more ways to side-eye run-of-the-mill cloth.
Yesterday, I walked into the fabric store to by 1.3 meters of fabric to back a piece I'm finishing, found exactly what I was looking for, pulled out the bolt, walked 5 steps and stopped. My daughter, age 9, who was with me when I opened that first box of mystery and there for the dozens that followed, said, "I think I understand, mom," and then, "I don't want be in here anymore. Let's go." So I returned the perfect bolt of cloth to the shelf and we walked out the door.
We aren't snobs, we aren't garbage pickers (well, sometimes), but going through this process has put me somewhere in the middle -- somewhere between what can be and what was, between old and new, between shouting and silence, between the beautiful and terrible, between confidence and uncertainty, between hiding everything and baring all.
And always, always existing in the Not Knowing.
Here's something I feel strongly about: theme kills. Entering into a project -- whether writing or visual arts -- with a theme in mind is a mistake. Themes emerge from the Not Knowing and from probing the Living Questions.
My work explores the work of women--literal, physical, emotional. Theme emerges from stomping around on this landscape, turning over rocks, lifting dead things to find new growth, or investigating why that thing shriveled and died in the first place.
These materials could have been debilitating, or narrow. They were. But roaming and poking at every single corner inside those confines is the ultimate freedom.
I pushed against the confines of form and these surface-bound artifacts -- base items made for the bed, the body, the table, the wall -- elevating and lightening them, while at the same time infusing them with weight.
I wanted to look at things we generally don't.
And open up the process to as many other hands as I could.
I met incredible generous people throughout this multi-year process, many of whom I now call friends. Some are traveling to Alaska this summer to see this work installed at the Anchorage Museum.
Eventually I'll share more about each of these pieces -- where the components came from, process images and further thoughts. But the next posts will be about the installation process and museum programming. There are so many things I've learned that will continue shaping how I approach future projects.
I'm so happy with this work, even when I thought it wasn't enough, or too much, or that I shouldn't have started down such a path in the first place.
I'm still wandering around on it, somewhere between lost and found.
Many thanks to Brian Adams for taking these gorgeous photos, to the Anchorage Museum for all of their unfailing support and guidance, to the Rasmuson Foundation and the Sustainable Arts Foundation for funding assistance to do this work.
1 year ago on this blog:
A history of intention. (The piece in this blog, "Fatigue Threshold," is part of this body of work, but is currently touring with Quilt National until October 2019).
2 years ago on this blog:
3 years ago on this blog:
I "officially" stopped collecting boxes of mystery for the Inheritance Project a long time ago. Like, September-30th-2016-long-time ago. But in the way I always accepted old cloth before the Project became a thing, I still accept it now.
At the end of this post is a sneak peek at one of the pieces from the Inheritance Project body of work, and when I send out the next newsletter, I'll give another peek there. I just finished a large piece yesterday and I'm on the home stretch for a May exhibition at the Anchorage Museum.
Meanwhile, a deep and belated thank you to the next two Vintage Linen Contributors to the Inheritance Project. These items were delivered this fall.
Many Contributors to this project are artists, and Anchorage-based Carol Lambert is no exception. I met Carol two years ago, when we were both curated into a small group show at Alaska Pacific University called Fragments of Time. She is a fine artist -- draws, paints, and is someone whose eye seeks the details that flesh out the darker undercurrents of life: a severed bird wing, a bit of bone. Around Christmas, she opened her studio and offered years-worth of still life props to other artists and makers who could find them useful. Alas, I didn't make it to her open studio prop give away, but I'd already visited with her in my own studio this fall when she delivered culled fabrics and accoutrements. Of course, these items blended easily into my life, despite how long it's taken me to share them here. So long, in fact, that I've already used several yards of it (although the Canadian in me really still likes to think in meters). Thank you, Carol, for contributing to the Inheritance Project and for attending one of the Needle & Myth workshops at the Anchorage Museum this fall. It's been a delight to follow your work all this time.
You, too, can see Carol's paintings and drawings here, and/or follow Carol on Instagram: @carollambertarts.
Thank you to Dennis Anderson, one of two men who have contributed to the Inheritance Project. Dennis and I were put in contact through the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska last fall. The quilt he contributed was made by his Great Grandmother, Hettie, on a Singer treadle sewing machine. I love this photo of her and have it on the wall in my studio. It's a source of great joy and defiant power.
Do not mess with this lady. Do not.
"Please use the photograph to the fullest. I love that picture. My mother said that Hettie always dressed that way. The ranch house had a wind mill with a 100 gallon tank about 50 feet from the home. When I spent a week end there about 1949 they had running water in the kitchen. I don't know about a bathroom. They had an outhouse about 100 feet from the house. It was a one seater with the quarter moon cut out in the door. And HONEST To GOSH a Sears and Roebuck catalog toilet paper."
Hettie collected Bull Durham tobacco pouches from her husband and the cowboys at neighboring ranches, using the cloth to make this quilt. It is sun faded and water stained, but I've already incorporated a baby quilt and another piece -- an unfinished embroidery from Olga Norris in England, with its own story of strength and defiance -- to complete "War Room," for exhibition this May. Below is a sneak peek. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, here's where those 2,000 tapestry needles landed.
One year ago on this site:
Two years ago on this site:
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At the end of September I had the rare opportunity to travel to Boston. While my husband attended meetings for 2 1/2 days, I gave myself the gift of much needed alone time, like a 6-hour date with myself at the Museum of Fine Arts, another date with myself at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a good hard wander through the gallery at the Society of Arts and Crafts. Did I mention we flew a grandma to Alaska to be with children so this could happen? So many moving parts. So hard to get away.
But the highlight of the trip was driving to Lowell on Saturday morning with the Director of the New England Quilt Museum, Nora Burchfield, to visit their current exhibition "Gilding the Lily: Embroidery in Quilts Past & Present." I was invited to exhibit 8 works for this show in my own "pocket" gallery. In the image below, you can see "Reliquary #8: Scroll through the entryway.
This exhibition will be installed until December 30, 2017. It's beautiful.
It was an incredible honor to be surrounded by 200 years of embroidered quilts in a city known for its long textile history, and have the prestige of representing a facet of this art form's contemporary turn. Work from both the Reliquary and Girl Story series are on display.
I didn't photograph everything in the exhibition, but below are a few broad strokes encompassing historic and contemporary work.
I recommend a good hard wander if you're out that way. You, too, might have a whole new shiny outlook.
I also had the opportunity to talk about my work while Caroline Gallagher created a video of this. I haven't seen it yet, but will link to when it's on You Tube.
Thank you Caroline and Nora for coordinating the effort.
Above is a rare reverse view of the suspended work, "Inheritance," featuring doilies used as "batting" between two layers of silk organza. The "quilting" is done with crewel embroidery wool and a darning stitch.
But enough about my work.
Kelly Cline, Lawrence KS "Champagene & Caviar," 2016. Cotton, silk. Hand embroidered vintage textile, hand-guided long arm quilting (left). Rhonda Dort, Houston TX, 2014. "Second Chances," Cottons, vintage linens, trims & doilies, crocheted pieces, buttons, beads, lace & pearls. Hand embroidery, applique, pieced & quilted. Macine embellished and embroidered.
Also, this happened: I ran into fellow Alaskan artist, Beth Blankenship, who happened to be in the museum on the same day, while visiting her daughter in Boston. Must've been the magnetic north pulling us toward one another, even when far from home.
One year ago on this blog:
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This summer I had the privilege of working on a vintage wedding gown. This wouldn’t be unusual if you knew I'd spent 9 of my 12 years in the clothing industry making and designing wedding gowns in the late ’80’s and ’90’s in Canada and the Lower 48. If you knew I’d constructed everything from family-gathering-at-the-farm shifts to custom froth for penthouse-bound adult film stars (okay, only one adult film star, but it was kind of a big deal in 2000). It wouldn't be unusual if you knew I’d once wrangled jealous bridesmaids, estranged mothers, best friends who felt left out, grandmothers arriving from the Old Country demanding silk gowns be remade “more white” a week before the wedding, crying brides who would be divorced in 4-6 months and my own insecurities as a 20-something with a whole lot of something to prove.
It wouldn’t be unusual, my taking on this project, except that 17 years ago I said I’d never work on a wedding gown again.
There are many reasons why a bride chooses a certain dress. Some of it is based on myth, or emotion, or the search for perfection. If she has the stamina, she will travel from city to city “looking for THE dress.” She will question herself. She will ask for advice. She will count her pennies, she will break the bank. She will present a designer with a black and white magazine photograph of a bride wearing floppy rubber boots, bareback on a horse, gown wadded up in one hand and field flowers in the other and say, “I want this dress.” Not because of the way it looks (who can figure that out?), but because of the mood. Because she wants to feel a certain way.
Often, the challenge isn't how well you fit a dress to a body, it's how well you fit the mind.
Robin, the bride, was referred by a friend in a I-think-you’re-maybe-the-only-one-who-can-take-this-on kind of way. The bride’s mother wore the dress in the ’80’s, but someone had worn it before. There is mystery around the provenance — maybe it came from an antique store, maybe from an aunt — but the bride’s mother isn’t here to tell the full story, which is why Robin wanted to wear the dress, the closest she could be to her mother on the day she married her partner, Jess.
The sheer cotton batiste and eyelet lace dress had been home made, perhaps in rural Indiana, with stitches so small I couldn’t get the tip of my seam ripper beneath, with areas so fragile they blew apart in my hands. I saw the dress in February, before it was sent away for cleaning and restoration* — it was yellowed, stained and had been suspended on a wire hanger for decades, partially covered in plastic.
I worked with the dress after it returned to Alaska from a cleaner in California. According to the bride, the professionals began with dry cleaning, then a wet cleaning process with Orvus paste, then a gentle bleach soak over several days, checking at critical points to ensure the fibers weren’t stretching or tearing. The transformation was stunning, but it took time.
My part of the project required properly fitting the dress, textile stabilization and updated finishing. Gathers at the waist became pleats. Metal hooks and eyes at the center back became hand made loops and silk covered buttons. I replaced the skirt lining. I repaired areas of stretched or ripped lace by hand. I trimmed away excess. I steamed, I pressed, and thought about the woman who first made this dress, the women who had worn it since, the woman who would wear it again. Connected, I became another link in a line of of makers and women crossing thresholds.
And this is the difference between working on wedding gowns in your 20’s as a seamstress/sewer/pattern maker/shopgirl/designer/assistant/or whatever else I was referred to, and working on a wedding gown as a mid-40’s artist and mother. My energy and intent had nothing to do with proving myself, and everything to do with respect, curiosity and creating the most supportive, most nurturing experience I could for another woman — for 2 women, actually — during a life moment when the experience should be beautiful and easy for a couple, but often feels overwhelming.
It’s also the difference between choosing to work with a vintage gown or making all new. Old cloth holds stories, secrets. It’s always my preference.
During the process, I was able to share discoveries about Robin’s mother -- she had a 24-inch waist when she got married, and had likely been losing weight since the seams at the hip had been taken in 3 times…the final time by hand, maybe stitched at the last minute, maybe the morning of the wedding. These are small things, small curiosities. But I wanted Robin to know that part of the story.
The rest of the dance belongs to her and Jess.
If you are interested in having a vintage wedding gown cleaned and/or restored, here are some resources:
National Gown — www.nationalgown.com
American Institute for Conservation -- www.conservation-us.org
See pdf: "Guide to Caring for Your Treasures"
List of Conservators (this list was originally provided by the Anchorage Museum, although they don't endorse anyone in particular. Refer to the above website to find a conservator near you):
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.