Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tamar Stone: Book Artist

In honor of Women’s History Month, we have invited Tamar Stone to write a guest entry for us.

The untitled Pink Corset Book (c2000) 

As a visual artist, I can't say enough good things about the Library Company. I truly believe that it is one of those institutions that has made my life so much richer for having the opportunity to use its resources and to be able to work with the incredible staff. I always look forward to doing more research there.

I make artist books. These are one-of-a-kind pieces that use antique textiles to speak to various issues that women faced in the past. My central interest is how women were bound physically, as well as metaphorically, throughout history (either by fashion or rules of society). Many of the issues – like women's dissatisfaction with their own bodies – are still relevant today.

I first learned about the Library Company in 2004 because of its participation in the “Picturing Women” exhibition. The brainchild of art historian Susan Shifrin, “Picturing Women” juxtaposed contemporary artwork and historical objects to promote dialogue about representations, and self-representations, of female identity. The Library Company was both one of the show’s three simultaneous venues and the repository of many of the show’s nearly 200 pieces.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would have to go and see as much of the show as I could. The exhibition contained so much information, and being able to see documents that I might not have been aware of otherwise was invaluable to a visual artist like myself. I am still using the notes I took at the time today.

Exhibition installation shot, in Re-framing Representations of Women. Susan Shifrin, ed. (2008).
Used by permission of the publishers from ‘Fashioning the Female Body’, in Re-framing Representations of Women edited by Susan Shifrin (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008), p. 88.  Copyright © 2008

While searching the collection, it was a delight to find some really obscure fashion-related items, such as this poem dedicated to the bustle, The Bustle: A Philosophical and Moral Poem (Boston, 1845), ostensibly written by “the most extraordinary man of the age.” Although it's been almost ten years since I read that poem, I am excited to have the opportunity to use this information on a current project I have just started about the fashions of bustles and crinolines.

Other pieces I create feature embroidered stories on beds. The more I read about women’s lives being constricted by their clothes and social mores, the more I became interested in women’s beds. The bed played a central role in the full spectrum of a woman’s life, from birth to death.

H.T.W.E. [“...his thanks was enough...” ]

My most recent bed piece, H.T.W.E. [ “...his thanks was enough...” ] is about women’s work during the Civil War. This project began with my interest in Florence Nightingale and her hospital reform work during the Crimean War. What she accomplished would change the way nurses and the field of nursing would be considered from that point onward (both on the battlefield and at home). Inspired by Nightingale, many women joined the war as volunteers – following their husbands and brothers into the battle fields. Others disguised themselves as men in order to partake in the action at the front lines. It is their bed-oriented stories and experiences that fill this folding army cot. For example, I had the pleasure of discovering and reading Sarah Emma Edmonds’ book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields (Hartford, 1865). 

Postscript from Cornelia King, Curator of Women’s History at the Library Company:
Please join us on Wednesday, April 9th, when Susan Shifrin will speak at the kick-off event for the Library Company’s new Program in Women’s History. Dr. Shifrin will speak about the “Picturing Women” project. We are very pleased that one of Tamar Stone’s pieces will also be on display during the event.

Register online for the event. Make that link to: http://www.librarycompany.org/events/index.htm

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