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.