Just Sew Stories

Women have always worked well with others, so it was no surprise when forty members of the Colorado Women's Caucus for Art decided to create together. The result is Maternal Legends, a collaborative installation of 128 Mylar panels stitched together to form an incredible ten-foot-square wall pastiche of personal mother-daughter tales that will go on exhibit Friday at Edge gallery. And that's just the beginning.

"We started out by brainstorming about a larger installation we had in mind," says Laura Russell, a participating artist and group spokeswoman. "Our plan was to build a whole house at the Dairy Art Center for next December featuring four different walls. This is one of the four walls." Each see-through panel tells its own story using a rainbow of media: paint, oil pastel, photocopies of old photographs, recipes, newspaper clippings and handwritten text, all collaged together in lyrical detail. The squares were arranged -- appropriately, considering the context -- by committee, a refreshing change for a group of normally isolated artists. "We had a sewing bee, with about twenty members and five sewing machines, all on one Sunday afternoon. We gathered up all the images, laid them out on the floor and arranged them in a visually pleasing order, then sewed all the aisles and rows and columns together. Everybody got involved."

The stories that emerged were fantastic, Russell says. Reflective, sweet, sad, funny, profound: the stuff of life laid out before an audience without pretense, as if the Mylar's very transparency were itself a metaphor. Some artists chose to explore family history in terms of what's been handed down physically -- breast cancer, prematurely gray hair -- while others tried to capture a wistful nostalgia for who their mothers were before they became mothers. Denver book artist Alicia Bailey's entry, for instance, features photos of her teenage mother and aunt skinny-dipping.

Some kept the sewing metaphor alive by incorporating textile references in maternal contexts: Boulder painter Bonnie Capaul collaged copies of her oil paintings, marrying images of clothing with images of her mother and mother-in-law; Denver artist Annette Coleman fused Polaroid transfers of her mother with images of antique tablecloths. Still others delved into their own experiences of maternal bonding, both as daughters and as mothers themselves: Boulder sculptor Lisa Michot's contribution muses on her own coming of age in Louisiana, using photos of the Mardi Gras dresses her mother made for her and her sisters; Russell's panel features a photo of her mother holding up a big fish, underscored with this quote: "The only way to get a man in my family to like you is to go fishing with him. The only way to get a man in my family to respect you is to catch a bigger fish than he does." Loveland artist Lee Wall's panel meditates on life as a single mother raising three daughters. Remember, this is only the beginning.

The next step, Russell says, is to get other groups involved, broadening the project's palette with a flush of new experiences. "We're working on going to an assisted-living center in Broomfield and getting the seniors involved in writing about their maternal histories," she notes. The group's goal is to produce a wall every three or four months in anticipation of the four-walled culmination. "We will be continuing this project," Russell affirms. "After all, we still have three more walls to build!"

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd