Art and politics come together in a series of events hosted by the Davis Gallery at Houghton House. Crafting Democracy features a fiber arts exhibit, a handmade zine and a virtual discussion with the artists.
Clarence A. “Dave” Davis ’48 Visual Arts Curator Anna Wager explains that crafting — think quilting, weaving, sewing, crocheting and embroidery — is inherently political and democratic. “We tend to think of crafting as neutral, but it provides an opportunity to engage with the community and to amplify different voices,” she says. “And there’s a tradition within craft communities where you’re working together to create something, so it’s an inherently democratic way of making art.”
The Crafting Democracy: Fiber Arts and Activism exhibit, co-curated by RIT faculty members Juilee Decker and Hinda Mandell, features about 30 pieces of contemporary fiber arts work created by artists from across the country and in Europe that engage with political themes or respond to the idea of democracy. Some are explicitly related to the 2016 presidential election while others reference issues such as inequalities in women’s health care, police brutality and climate change.
“Making these physical objects becomes a way to participate in democracy,” says Wager, explaining that part of that engagement involves the way the art becomes visible, such as yarn installations in public places and bringing quilts to marches. “They’re portable in a way that paintings and sculptures aren’t, so you can bring them to different places and spaces, and they can be conversation starters for people who have different viewpoints.”
Students helped to design and hang the Davis Gallery exhibition under Wager’s guidance, along with Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Alysia Kaplan’s senior seminar class. The displayed work includes quilts, weavings, a sweater, an infinity scarf, resin sculptures wrapped in thread and even a series of photographs documenting yarn graffiti installations.
Rural outreach is also a part of the larger Crafting Democracy program, made possible by funding from Humanities NY. Wager worked with Laura Rowley, an independent printmaker in Trumansburg, N.Y., who runs Illuminated Press, to develop and print a zine called Crafting Democracy: Voices of the Finger Lakes. The publication features 15 interviews with makers from around Seneca Lake about what they’ve created during the coronavirus pandemic and how activism and protest have or have not factored into their work.
Wager and Rowley hosted multiple workshops to teach people how to print and bind copies of the zine, including three block printing workshops at the Ovid Public Library in Ovid, N.Y., and binding workshops under the tent on the lawn outside Houghton House and at the Finger Lakes Visitors Center pavilion at the Geneva lakefront. Participants took home the copy of the zine they bound. Copies of the zine will be available around campus and in Geneva in the coming months.
The third component of the Crafting Democracy programming is a series of virtual events, including a discussion with stitcher, writer and maker Betsy Greer — known for creating the term “craftivism,” a portmanteau of “craft” and “activism” — and many of the artists whose work is showcased in the exhibit. A Q&A with wool and war filmmakers Trish FitzSimons and Madelyn Shaw will take place on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. To view the documentaries, click here.
The Crafting Democracy: Fiber Arts and Activism exhibit at the Davis Gallery runs until Dec. 1. Appointments are required. To schedule a visit and for login information for the “Wool and War” event, visit https://www2.hws.edu/davis-gallery/.