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  “Whenever a new person enters our family, my grandmother, the matriarch,

knits them a stocking, which are hung as beautifully intricate totems of her love”

Mothers of Thread is an homage to my family and to every woman grappling with growing old. It’s a tribute to aging women and the folk art that is often associated with them.  It’s an apology. It is me coming to terms with my own fear of this invisible problem that eventually exiles women and their work to the edge of society. 

We look right through the faces we no longer see value in. A woman who is no longer embedded in the cult of youth, a woman who can no longer perform physical labor for others is seen as a threat. As they cease being valuable as conventionally beautiful ornaments or thankless workers, our elders are ostracized and ignored, their only representation being the quiet “little old lady” or the “evil old witch.” It’s no secret that exclusively young, attractive women are frequently objects of artistic affection, which makes me ask; how are we supposed to acknowledge and respect the aging women in our lives while we tell them that they are not worthy of being looked at? Women are often the physical and social weavers of networks, sitting within a web of interconnecting, layered realities and roles. They are measured through the success of those they are tied to, rather than their own accomplishments as individuals. What is your worth when you can no longer service others in the way that a capitalist society demands? What is your legacy? 


Whenever a new person enters our family, my grandmother, the matriarch, knits them a stocking, which are hung as beautifully intricate totems of her love. I have seen how not only the voices and bodies of older women have been shunned, but also their artwork. The dominant art establishment has a history of dismissing folk art as a “primitive,” “naive,” or an otherwise lesser form of creative expression. This view can perhaps be attributed to a few factors. 


First, folk and craft art is often created by ordinary individuals with no formal art education. Practices like embroidery, crochet, woven textiles, and objects embellished with folk paintings are often created with knowledge that is passed down within a community through elder family members. Folk art is the art of a community; while craft art might be made by an individual’s hand, the styles, symbols, and techniques they might use all come from their group’s artistic tradition that has been developing for hundreds of years. In this way, folk crafts are a highly democratized artform. To those who grew up in communities with strong ties to folk traditions, the motifs within the genre can feel familiar, nostalgic, and the materials and skills that are needed to learn craft traditions are both realistic and attainable. It is possible that the accessibility and the recognizability of folk art iconography contributes to their rejection from an establishment that favors exclusivity, scarcity, and a perceived conceptual uniqueness. 


Folk and craft arts are also most practiced by lower and middle class women. Regional art aesthetics can be incredibly intricate, with communities developing styles that include bursts of rich color and maximalist detail which clashes with the minimalist art style championed by “modern art” curators. Within the past century, the art of the Global North’s upper classes has seen a shift from ornate maximalism to stark, “clean” modernism, so the institutionalized aversion to art that is labeled “folk” or “craft” may stem from elites wanting to distinguish their aesthetic tastes from those developed in lower classes. 


Lastly, of course, is the gendered notion that art involving fashion and textiles is “women’s work”.  Ornamentation such as embroidery has been historically characterized as “frivolous.” The beautification of objects that are meant to be used, such as clothing, furniture, kitchenware, and lighting fixtures is an act that is often associated with women and has been excluded from art historical analysis.


The goal of Mothers of Thread is to put older women and the folk art that is often associated with them into the spotlight. I aim to tap into the history of craft and maximalism as aesthetics of rebellion and femininity, hoping to start conversations around the forces which have exiled folk art and the genre’s femme artists from the established art canon as both makers and subjects. 


I am using a 3D medium for Mothers of Thread not only because of the freedom that it gives me when creating intricate pieces but also to demonstrate how folk aesthetics are not just limited to embroidery or kitsch objects. I’m arguing that just because folk art has a history, it does not mean that craft aesthetics can’t be modern. In fact, craft art has not only been used by the people for beauty but as an art of rebellion. Historically, some grassroots movements have used craft aesthetics in their activism, such as the AIDS Quilt which was conceived in 1985, and the American Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 20th century which produced and wielded embroidered banners that proclaimed their right to vote during public demonstrations.


One of my goals with Mothers of thread is to begin to not only give older women representation but to also challenge the narrative surrounding the few existing depictions of them. In this work, I focus on highlighting motifs historically found in Ashkenazi Jewish culture as well as Hungarian as a way for me to spiritually connect with my female ancestors. I want to highlight the webs of passed down artistic legacy that embroidery and textile works are made from and how folk art can translate and relay the ideas of older generations.


The oldest Hungarian artwork often incorporated the “Tree of Life” symbol, whose original structure came from pagan ideas concerning the origins of life. Knowing that the uterus had the ability to create life, ancient Hungarians looked up into the sky and saw the milky way which was seen as a crack in the universe. This crack was viewed as a “sacred hole” through which the world was born, therefore relating the Tree of Life to the human vagina. The original tree of life motif has three main elements; the roots, which symbolize the underworld and always branch out into two directions, the crown, which symbolizes the heavens above, and the trunk, which is our level of the human world, whose winding form is like the continuous flow of life. Over time, through Byzantine and Ottoman artistic influence, the older embroidery styles have evolved into the organic, floral aesthetic that is most often produced today. This is a prime example of how Hungarian folk aesthetics are capable of communicating ancient philosophies to the contemporary collective consciousness.

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