Special Show to Start
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