Note: yes, we're jumping right into another multi-part series of posts. I hope this will help show the work in a fuller context. Really, a lot of my art is done as a series (I keep exploring something until I've beaten it to death) and it's not possible to explain them individually.
In a posting on fossils, I mentioned my Closet Archaeology show. The Hermitage is a small local museum in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ. They have a wonderful collection of vintage clothing, going back to almost the American Revolution. The director, Richard Sgritta, asked me to put together a show of their clothing with my art. I had almost a year to assemble this, and the show was up for 6 months. It was the perfect venue to show my work.
The original stone farmhouse was built in the mid-1700s. It was purchased in 1807 by Elijah Rosencrantz and his wife, Cornelia Suffern. Four generations of the family lived at the Hermitage. Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantzwas the last to live there. When she died in 1970, she bequeathed the house, contents and grounds to the State of New Jersey. In 1970, the Hermitage was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The farmhouse was full of antiques. But there was another, newer house on the premise, and this was the gallery for the show. Unlike the usual stark white walls of the typical gallery...
..this place called for a creative approach to display. The dresses and other artifacts in the collection had to be in cases...but I didn't think the few cases available would really work. Having museum-style cases in a house gallery didn't fit. Some of the display cases were permanently built in, but I asked them to remove the portable ones.
I took photos of the place, then photoshopped out anything on display, so I could visually plan with an empty space. Some of the empty case photos might look a bit wobbly.
I started collecting old suitcases, trunks and chests. Here's a few of the dozens I gathered, in my living room. I painted them to match the trim in the house.
In the climate-controlled storage area, I found lovely old christening gowns. I had to note exactly where each one was stored, so it could be returned after the show. Then I lined the suitcases with dark fabric, carefully arranged the dresses inside, and covered them with sheets of clear acrylic.
And it worked! The dresses were safe inside their cases, and my art was on the wall.
To reduce visual clutter, I covered the windows with sheer white fabric. These window covers have deconstructed baby clothes and baby bonnets stitched to the cloth. And the small case on top of the wicker basket? The lid has a photo from the collection - one of the Rosencrantz infants - and the case holds that actual bonnet.
Fossil Garment #7 ( 25"h x 39"w), with a deconstructed christening gown, is hanging on the wall.
The New Jersey Devil: left, as it's usually imagined, and right,(as visualized by Marisa DiPaolo and myself) in the Pine Barrens show. Marisa and I met at a Peters Valley residency many years ago. Marisa creates fantastic knitted art:
Even though she and her husband Mohamed and baby Marmelade were then living in Austria, I wondered if we could pull off an overseas collaboration. We did! We spoke once, in person, when she was visiting the states, then communicated online.
Here's a picture of the plan she drew (don't remember if she told me that the dog or the baby chewed it), with the feet and little Marmelade modeling one of the caps.
Marisa knitted up all sorts of wings and caps and other parts that I couldn't quite identify as body parts, and shipped them to me. I assembled them (with some added baby clothes) and sent her the image. She told me I had the tail backwards (right! three pronged). I reassembled, and it came together.
The legend of the NJ devil is based on a mother and her unfortunate child. The only actual fact is that Deborah Leeds & Japhet Leeds (from the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County) named 12 children in their 1736 will. Here are some of the conjectures:
After 12 children, Mrs. Leeds said if she had one more child, "may it be a devil".
The child/devil was the result of a family curse.
Mrs. Leeds, a Quaker, refused to be converted. An angry clergyman said her next baby would be a child of Satan.
The child was born a monster. Mrs. Leeds cared for him until her death. He flew off into the swamps.
People in the 1700s still believed in witchcraft and many people of the period felt a deformed child was a child of the devil or that the deformity was a sign that the child had been cursed by God.
I sewed these legends onto the clothing, using the type of alphabet beads that hospitals (long ago) strung around infants wrists for identification.
Marisa and I are both mothers. You can't be a parent, working on a project like this, and not be stung by the cruelty in these legends.
And that's it for my story of the Pine Barrens! It's a wonderful place to visit, but please - don't go looking for the bizarre and the monstrous. And stick to the paved roads.
In addition to the bog iron and the glass jars, the Pine Barrens was famous for ceramics. The place is full of sand ....and clay. There were many brick manufacturers: The Pasadena Company was better known for a scandal than its manufacturing, and the Sayreville company (later Sayer & Fisher) made bricks that are still around today. In reading about all these bricks, I decided to make some textile bricks.
My plan was to spell out the story in embedded letters, and arrange them in a sort of tower.....
...a short, ugly tower. This is why you have a critique group, to help you face the awful truth. So I disassembled the pieces, and made them into individual bricks (stuffed with the cut-up cushions from the couch we were throwing out).
And how to display the bricks? In a wheelbarrow, of course! I found one on Craig's List, painted it white, and it was perfect.
Here they are, beautifully lit at the Noyes (thank you, Dorrie!) with the mason jars in back. And perched atop the wall in the very back is the Jersey Devil. That story is up next.
In 1858, the first Mason jar was patented by tinsmith John L. Mason (born in Vineland, 1832) and made by the Crowley Glassworks of Burlington County.
Mason’s 2nd patent was a machine that could cut threads into a glass jar’s lip. This made screw-on zinc lids possible. A rubber ring completed the seal.
Two very early mason jars, and a wooden model (which I assume was made for the patent application).
There was an amazing variety of closures for these jars, and shapes:
And finally, they all came together on a 6ft tall rounded shelving unit, in the show "Pine Barrens: Life and Legends"
The size of the lettering on the jars varied: larger print was further from eye-level, with the largest being the ones on the Conahasey Aquifer jars. The bottom layers held sand. After the exhibit was finished, Stockton College asked to have the jars on permanent display. Most of the top five shelves of jars fit into the double-sided indoor window opening:
There were 2 more pieces that I worked on for that show, and you'll see them next.