Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Be Seen and Not Heard

(Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard.  Mixed Media art quilt.  30 1/2" x 23" unframed; 33" x 25 3/4" framed.  Assorted 19th century copper-plate and steel engravings on heavy watercolor paper with hand-stitched shirt buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

My button obsession continues!  When rummaging through some of the antiquarian prints that I still own, I found a stack of idealized women.  Many were illustrations from books of poetry, including, Lords Alfred Tennyson and  George Bryon.  Others came from various Shakespearean plays.  Some were from unknown sources because almost every engraving came into my possession from a severely damaged old book that might not have included a title page or even a cover.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard.  Detail.)

Once upon a time, I framed such engravings and sold them through antique malls.  That market dried up years ago.  Unfortunately, the entire stack of eighty-nine engravings would likely not bring a $20 bid at my local auction house.  Minus a commission, the stack wouldn't net me much at all.  The fact of the matter is, the matte medium used to create this collage cost more than the antiquarian prints.  In one sense, this is sad.  In another sense, I happen to have great material with which to work!  I cut all eighty-nine engravings and collaged them to heavy watercolor paper.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I knew from the start that I would stitch buttons to each mouth.  After all, these ladies came from a time when "a true woman" was virtuous.  Her most important characteristics were to be pious, submissive, chaste and firmly grounded in domesticity.  Her place was in the home where she was dependent on her husband for both financial security and social status. The lives of upper- and middle-class women were limited to marriage and motherhood or spinsterhood (both of which are dependent on domesticity).  Even those lucky enough to attend seminaries and colleges for girls found the curriculum restricted to religious instruction, books to assist in educating children, and etiquette manuals. Popular periodically, like Godey's Magazine, stressed devotion to fashion and beauty.  Fiction was overly sentimental and filled with female characters that were delicate, prone to fainting, and always submissive to their husband's superiority.        

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

Feminism has its roots in these bygone days but wasn't a term in the English language and certainly not a widely embraced concept.  Working women were considered "unnatural".  Intellectual women, like Margaret Fuller, were considered "unfeminine".  Most women simply didn't have a voice.  They were to be seen and not heard.

 (Above:  Work in progress ... sitting atop my dry mount press.)

After cutting all the ladies from their background and collaging them to a piece of heavy-weight watercolor paper, I fused the piece to fabric.  I did this using a custom picture framing product called Fusion 4000.  Under 28 pounds of pressure per square inch set at 180 degrees, my dry mount press permanently attached the fabric to the back of the watercolor paper.  I probably didn't need to do this.  Why?  Well, the overlapping layers of engravings, the amount gel medium from the collaging, and the thickness of the watercolor paper would have been more than enough support to hold the buttons.  By adding the denim-weight fabric, I really made the task of stitching buttons difficult.  I used a pair of pliers in order to get the perle cotton threaded chenille needle through all these layers.  It took several evenings ... but it was worth it.

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

Because there is quite a bit of matte medium over the entire surface of the paper, I knew I didn't have to frame the piece under glass.  I wanted to use a "floater" frame.  This is a unique presentation usually done for gallery wrapped canvases.

(Above:  A floater ... with one side not attached in order to show how a canvas fits into it.)

A floater frame does not cover any of the surface of the artwork.  Instead, the canvas is attached with screws that go through the bottom of the floater frame and up into the wooden stretcher bars.  From the front, the artwork appears to "float" inside the frame.  So ... how did I manage this?

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I cut a piece of mat board just 1/8" smaller than the piece and coated it with matte medium.  I sealed the fabric on the reverse of the artwork with Golden's GAC 400, an acrylic fabric stiffener. I allowed both the dry overnight.  I then applied more matte medium to the mat board and attached the artwork.  The "sandwich" was put under weights.  Acrylics bond to acrylics.  They work like conservation-grade glue.  The artwork was now even thicker.  The mat board became the new back.  Finally, I glued a stretcher bar to the mat board.  Once dry, I installed the piece as if it were a canvas on stretcher bars.  It's good to be a custom picture framer!
  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I'm really pleased with the piece and it has led to new ideas.  I am now in search of people willing to provide a close-up, relatively high resolution image of just their mouth ... smile or no smile!  With luck, I'll use the images to create two pieces tentatively called Her Secrets and His Secrets.  In my mind, I see lots of larger, red buttons!  So ... if you are reading and willing, my email address is  Send me your mouth!

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail showing lower right corner and floater frame against an interior wall.)

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail showing upper right corner while the work leaned again a window.  I try different locations for their different lighting!)


Norma Schlager said...

Fabulous! I have enjoyed using buttons, too, but not with such a political statement. Your work always amazes me and I appreciate your taking us through your process.

sonja said...

Your work is deep reaching and reminded me of times i was told to pipe down pinocho, button your lip, shut up and ...talked over......once too many times... On an up note, recently i helped a friend shorten dress strap for her grand daughter. The fabric was stretchy and had a deep pile and felt like a faux velvet....any way, i offered her my box of vint and dyed over buttons to choose from if she felt the place where i cut and rejoined needed a cover up. She also needed thread and needle so i made a tiny sewing kit for her. outcome, Grand daughter X on the buttons. oh well, all 4 of them did not match any way... and i want them back!
Oh, and what Norma said, Ditto!