Thursday, March 07, 2019

White Collars Installation

 (Above:  White Collars, Fortune 500.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Three-and-a-half years ago I created White Collars while at an art residency in Wisconsin.  At the time, I was pleased enough with the results.  The short video most assuredly held promise because the thread suspended collars rotated slowly in the breezes inside the barn in which I hung them.  There was something visceral about the movement and the juxtaposition of pristine symbols from the corporate world floating in a decidedly blue collar space. Yet after leaving Wisconsin, I never did anything with the work.  Something was "off" but I didn't know what.

 (Above:  White Collars, in progress.)

I didn't think about the installation for at least two years ... until another bunch of antique but never worn white collars came up at auction. In 2015, I had twenty-two collars.  Now I have more than the forty-five used for this new version of the installation.  First, however, I had to think about what I didn't like about the first approach.  It finally hit me.  I didn't like my self-guided, free-motion stitching.   What was needed was a more industrial approach, words stitched in a computerized font on a digital machine.  Some people would say that I could learn this (and maybe I could have) but I didn't want to buy a new machine too!  So, I sub-contracted the work with an amazing lady who owns Scouts Honor Stitching.  I gave her my list and suggestions.  She stitched it all out.  We agreed that I would remove all the stabilizing interface to save her time and me money!  Perfectly, the stitched work was done in time to come to this Missouri art residency.

 (Above:  White Collars on the oak desk at Osage Arts Community.)

Shortly after my arrival, I started tearing away the stabilizer and thinking about how and where I would suspend them.  As I worked, I couldn't help but to notice the nice, antique oak desk at which I was working.  This is just the sort of office furniture that would have been where a man wearing a white collar would have worked.  It occurred to me that I didn't have to suspend the collars.  I could stitch them into the circular form they were intended to become and place them in neat rows on the desk.  (As luck would have it, I brought a bag of white shirt buttons with me!)

Back in 2015, I wrote:  Once upon a time, "white collar" had only positive references.  One on-line dictionary gives this definition:  adjective, belonging or pertaining to the ranks of office and professional workers whose jobs generally do not involve manual labor or the wearing of a uniform or work clothes and noun, a white collar worker.  This history of this term goes back to the late nineteenth and beginning of the 20th centuries when a white dress shirt was the common dress for male office workers ... as opposed to the blue overalls worn by manual laborers.  Upton Sinclair is often credited with coining the term.  

The detachable white collars for this installation came from more than one manufacturer.  Yet, many were made by Cluett Peabody & Company, Inc.  This place had been headquartered in Troy, NY and their best known brand was called Arrow.  Arrow Collar Man advertisements were popular from 1905 - 1931.  For years I've seen these advertisements!  White Collar meant upper class, high society, college educated, and the highest tier in the American work force.  A man wearing these collars was EXACTLY the man every mother hoped for her daughter.   To wear a white collar meant a share of the American Dream!

(Above:  White Collars, 60" x 42.  Machine stitched vintage, detachable white collars hung with t-pins.)

Times have changed and with it the associations with the phrase "white collar".  We've all heard too much, too often, and too many insulting and illegal actions done by a greedy, well-to-do, cheating class of white collar workers.  

So my list includes: Shirt & Tie Guy; Not Getting My Hands Dirty; Salaried Not Hourly; College Educated; Minimum of Physical Exertion; Married a Gold Digger; Status is Everything; Clean Shirt Everyday; Executive Level; Master of the Universe; Born into Privilege; Haute Couture; Fortune 500; Yearly Bonus; Country Club Set; Fast Track to Success; From a Good Family; Cushy Job; Lots of Perks; High Class; Upper Management; The Great White Way; Securities Fraud; Insider Trading; Boiler Room Operator; Hedge Fund Manager; Money Laundering; Plead the Fifth; Plausible Deniability; Ponzi Scheme; Financial Improprieties; Embezzlement; Cheating the Shareholders; Breach of Trust; Tax Evasion; Insurance Fraud; Racketeering; Pyramid Investment; Antitrust Violations; Corruption Charges; Mortgage Fraud; Mail and Wire Fraud; Pump & Dump Stock Scam; Corporate Scandal.

After playing with the collars on the desktop, it occurred to me that I could hang them on t-pins ... right on a wall.  It was fun deciding the arrangement due to the different sizes and styles of collars I had.

They look pretty good hanging beside my residency work table.  I'm now in the process of turning yards of the red carpet from the aisles of last year's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show into a giant boa to go with the dress I'm making. Now that I am truly satisfied with this piece (and the many possible ways to display it!), I am returning to ideas I had back in 2015 ... ideas about "pink collar workers" (referring to secretarial, clerical workers, and nurses) and "grey collar workers" (skilled technicians, especially in information technology or any other worker whose job requires both administrative and manual labor) or "gold collar workers" (referring to highly skilled professionals in very high demand ... like engineers, doctors and lawyers.)  Obviously, I'd like to address "blue collars" but also the notion of a philanthropist.  After all, I don't really want to suggest that every white collar worker is a crook.  I wouldn't be at an art residency, qualify for grants, get many of the arts opportunities I've enjoyed and especially see great works in museums without the generosity of white collar philanthropists who make the world a better and more creative place!    


   Below are a few more detail shots of White Collars.

 (White Collars, Fast Track to Success.)

 (Above:  White Collars, Racketeering.)

 (White Collars, Born into Privelege.)

(Above:  White Collars, The Great White Way.)

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