At the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts (HGA) we start the turn of the calendar year with several special art shows. The North Carolina statewide juried art show, “Resolutions”, is wrapping up. Next, we mount two group themed shows of work from the HGA membership. “It’s All About The Story” is the first of these shows.
“It’s All About The Story” takes advantage of the the notable literary community that exists in Hillsborough. The artists of HGA create art in response to the work of one of the town’s many local authors, and this year we are doing something a bit different. This year’s author is long deceased.
Elizabeth Keckley is best remembered as dressmaker and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln. Elizabeth was born into slavery, and it was during her teen years in servitude that she lived in Hillsborough as a slave in the Burwell household. The Burwell School historic site has marked the 200th anniversary of Keckley’s birth this past year with a number of events surrounding its most notable former resident. For our inspiration we drew from Elizabeth’s memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. My piece is titled “Fashioned Freedom”.
Looking at Elizabeth
I took a step back from my art doll sculptures for this piece. Mrs. Keckley’s true story required something more than a depiction of a character or envisioning a theme from her book. Her life was one of both subjugation and emancipation, though neither as we typically see them. Elizabeth Keckley eventually purchased her and her son’s freedom, but she later became bound in a different way to Mary Todd Lincoln. I found a sense of irony contained where a woman is labeled as “free” in a society where she was anything but free, and she creates garments for other women that literally incorporate a cage structure.
I based my sculpture on a purple velvet dress that Elizabeth Keckley made for Mrs. Lincoln for the 1861-62 winter social season. This dress was a two piece garment with two different bodices, one for day wear, and the other as an evening gown. I reimagined the evening gown form in copper wire and chain around a miniature soft sculpture dress form I created. My intention was to express visually the contradictions of freedom and bondage I encountered in Elizabeth’s story.
It’s All About The Story will show at The Hillsborough Gallery of Arts from February 1-20th. There will be a reading at HGA by William L. Andrews author of Slavery And Class In The American South on Sunday, February 10th from 3-4:30pm
I have been busy keeping up with my inventory of needle felted holiday ornaments the past few weeks, and neglected to share the newest art doll figure sculpture in my collection. Her name is “Eirlys” which is Welsh for “snow drop”. She is my first completely needle felted figure piece.
Eirlys, has been on display in the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts since we hung the holiday show in November.
A New Face
Following the completion of my Aurora Dancing piece, and producing a few dozen animal ornaments you can imagine that I was beginning to make up my mind about working with needle felted wool. It was Eirlys, however, that had cemented my infatuation with the medium. As I have created more and more art doll sculptures I have worked to breath additional expression and personality into each little figure. I was pleased with the increased detail when I switched to paperclay from my original hammered copper faces a couple years ago. Likewise, I love the surface contour control and color mixing I was able to achieve with wool fibers. I love the wistful and magical look she has with the addition of her iridescent black glass bead eyes. I have not worked to have my art doll pieces possess overly natural looking eyes. Sometimes, I have to admit that I find dolls with overly realistic glass type eyes just a bit creepy. Besides, a frost faced snow fairy with blue hair, would just naturally have to have magic eyes that appear to glow from within.
So Put Together
Eirlys is constructed over a wire frame that has been “fleshed out” with quilt batting. Some elements, like large sections of her clothing are first needle felted off the doll. I created the large round portion of her coat/dress skirt, and her snowy wings in this manner, and then felted them in place on the doll. Likewise, for the scrolling blue pattern on her dress I formed the basic shapes and then felted them appliqué style so they could follow the contours of the sculpture’s form. Other parts such as her face were felted/sculpted in place
More to Come
As I alluded to earlier, I really enjoy the results I am achieving sculpting my art doll figures in wool. So much so, I have decided to create all of my pieces for this year’s feature show in April in this manner. I have already completed a piece or two, but you will have to wait a bit to see them. I have to get them ready for early copy deadline images for the show, but then keep most of them under wraps until the show opens. But, don’t worry, I’ll share some of what you can expect to see over the next few months.