Ghost Stories

Summer means time in the studio for research and development. And this year it was a perfect mix of uninterrupted trial and error that yielded some very exciting results!


I have a fascination with early photography and have collected antique tintype portraits ever since I was introduced to the daguerreotype collections at Historic Northampton in 2016. For Unidentified Women, I scoured flea markets collecting antique tintype photographs. Struck by the poignant anonymity of the subjects, I altered with raw and idiosyncratic embroidery to call attention to those whose identities are long forgotten.

UPROOTED, 20.75 x 16.25 in. - aluminum, embroidery, artificial flowers, asstd threads - 2019

UPROOTED, 20.75 x 16.25 in. - aluminum, embroidery, artificial flowers, asstd threads - 2019

This new series, Ghost Stories, expands on these small intimate tintype portraits both in size and expression. They are scanned, enlarged, cropped, transferred onto large sheets of aluminum, and then embroidered to create powerful confrontational images.

Inspired by the uneasy postures and expressions of my finds, I investigate for hidden meanings that lay just below the surface – focusing on the strangeness of what is assumed to be known – but isn’t. The new images challenge perceptions as they capture that place where anxiety and beauty can co-mingle. In this way, an obsolete 19th century photo process is transformed into an object of contemporary relevance that recontextualizes history and begs the question: What is really going on here? Is what we see really what it is?

IN GOD WE TRUST, 19 x 16 in. - aluminum, cotton thread - 2019

IN GOD WE TRUST, 19 x 16 in. - aluminum, cotton thread - 2019

This September the Cahoon Museum of America Art is presenting a traveling daguerreotype exhibition entitled Through The Looking Glass: Daguerreotype Masterworks from the Dawn of Photography.

“This exhibition is a comprehensive survey celebrating the art of the daguerreotype- the first successful method of photography. Through the Looking Glass features important examples from America, France, England, and the Middle East. … All the major collecting genres of daguerreotypes -landscapes, architectural studies, occupationals, erotic stereoviews, post-mortems, and of course portraiture- are represented by superb, often surprising examples.”

In the parallel show Look This Way I’ll be exhibiting with two other artists to offer intriguing counterpoints to the daguerreotypes on view. Jackie Reeves recaptures fleeting moments of personal history in her Memory Paintings. Ceramicist Kimberly Sheerin creates monumental vessels that memorialize the lives of significant women whose lives remain hidden and unknown.

We hope to challenge the viewer to stop, look deeper, linger longer and to consider what their artwork truly reveals. “…Even as people and moments are recorded by the camera, things are not always what they seem; even though we possess family photographs we hold dear, memory is fleeting and transient; even when we think a photograph tells us the truth, there is so much that is never recorded.”

Look This Way
Cahoon Museum of American Art

September 6 – October 30, 2019
Fall Art Exhibitions Opening Reception: Friday, September 13, 4:30 – 6:00pm



Jabez Dreams

On August 31 Jessica Roscio, curator of Danforth Art, is presenting her show DRESSEDthe work of six artists working in a range of media whose works reference the intricacies of covering the body and the meaning imbued in items such as the familiar dress form… experimenting with the fluidity of form while acknowledging gendered constrictions placed on the body.

A year ago Jessica asked that I create a headwear sculpture in response to a painting from the museum’s permanent collection. For those who don’t know me, this is my absolute favorite way to work! Research, contextualizing, sketching, resketching, more research… you see my obsession.

As difficult as it is to only choose one I was particularly attracted to a painting by Nina Bohlen. Jabez Dreams is full of color, expression and utopian vitality. Naive to the meaning of the title, but sure that it was of importance to Nina, I spent some time looking into the name Jabez.

NINA BOHLEN  Jabez Dreams , n.d. Oil on canvas 31” x 41” Gift of the Artist

NINA BOHLEN Jabez Dreams, n.d. Oil on canvas 31” x 41” Gift of the Artist

What I found is a biblical story from the Chronicles about a man, Jabez, whose name stands for sorrow, trouble and he causes pain. His mother was inspired by the name “Because I bore him in pain”. In those times names were very important and it was believed that they defined a person’s fate.

Well, Jabez was very worried about having a life of sorrow and wanted to do something about it. He engaged in a life of good deeds and prayer to God to redeem himself of this plight and apparently it worked. He was labeled with sorrow at birth, but his prayer and actions against contracting sorrow nullified the label. His life contradicted his name. I like to think of it as him taking control of his destiny. According to this online reference, God had a purpose for Israel, and a for Jabez – the plight of the persecuted in finding peace.

Metaphorically, Nina’s painting of flowers, birds and idyllic nature symbolizes sanctuary. A place of safety possibly realized by overcoming superimposed obstacles or predetermined characteristics that are endowed on individuals according to their appearance, identity or any other means.

Bringing to the present, It is uncanny how similar this story is with what’s happening to transgender voters in places like Georgia, who are being blocked from voting if their ID’s don’t match up with their birth name (and gender) at birth. I came across an article about how the first (and most important) step in claiming a new identity is the process of changing your name.

“For many transgender people, choosing a new name is the first outward claim on their new identity. It helps [other] people to start seeing and thinking about you differently — even if your body hasn’t changed, or if body changes aren’t part of your transition plan, they still have to call you something different,”

This brings me to the thesis of Dressed, and how my headwear sculpture relates to ‘the guise we present to the outside world’ and ‘the meaning imbued in items of familiar dress form’.

CALL ME ROSE, Assorted clothing fabrics, red dye, threads, wire - 2019 Photo: Will Howcroft

CALL ME ROSE, Assorted clothing fabrics, red dye, threads, wire - 2019
Photo: Will Howcroft

Call Me Rose is an elaborate over-the-top presentation of size and embellishment. The petals are created from clothing, dyed red to unify the varying patterns of plaid, herringbone, tweed, camouflage – identifing materials of being dressed. It is an object of beauty with dark undertones that requires several glances to take it in. The name follows the etiquette language of transgender name changes as outlined in the article. The effect is ambiguous, at first glance feeling feminine, at second glance masculine, at third glance something else. (Or maybe the reverse order!)

As for how it relates to the painting – the flowers in nature as objects of peace and adornment inspired my choice of the rose, and the story behind the name Jabez points to identity and overcoming the influences that have been imposed on you once you find your place.

Other works included are three of my earlier headwear sculptures Poke, Wallflower and Fascinator; plus Primped and How Things Stack Up from my Mary Janes collection and a new work of 45 embroidered tins entitled One Size Fits All.

ONE SIZE FITS ALL, 45 embroidered tin tiles, mixed fibers - 2019 Photo: Will Howcroft

ONE SIZE FITS ALL, 45 embroidered tin tiles, mixed fibers - 2019
Photo: Will Howcroft

Danforth at Framingham State University
14 Vernon Street, Framingham, MA 01701

August 31 - December 31, 2019
Reception Saturday, September 7 at 6 pm

Please visit us - Catherine Bertulli, Jodi Colella, Merill Comeau, Mia Cross, Nancy Grace Horton, Marky Kauffmann - for this entertaining, thought-provoking and beautiful show.

"Start Where You Are...

. . . . Do what you can. Use what you have.” –Arthur Ashe

As I watch my work gravitate towards promoting makers and exploring the transformative powers of creative expression, I’m encouraged by the ability of fiber and handwork to build communities and increase awareness of social/political issues. It makes my head spin how comprehensive and effective the applications of craft can be in expressing sentiments, and advocating change. Stitching is no longer considered the prisoner of Victorian era parlors or the sole education opportunity for young girls in colonial America. However, the voices of these women can still be found in the quiet stitches of antique samplers as the influencers for contemporary stitchers and activists.

One such application of political craft practice is being used to increase economic opportunities and build new lives for thousands of women who are being trained in sewing and embroidery to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty.

The organization MarketPlace: Handwork of India provides the infrastructure to educate and council women to become leaders in their communities. 

A nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing economic opportunites for over 480 women artisans in India, and empowering them to bring about changes in their lives, their families, and their communities. Since MarketPlace began in 1986, women who were formerly unemployed, “unemployable”, or desperately underemployed have been building new lives around rewarding work, education opportunities and social support.

The MarketPlace works with over 400 artisans who are organized into 11 independent cooperatives that produce high-quality women’s apparel and home décor. They learn skill like sewing and embroidery, and participate in all aspects of running the cooperatives. Some have never picked up a needle before so the aim is to meet the artisan where they are with their skills and teach designs that can be learned and then built upon later.

Economic development is the first step in breaking the cycle of poverty and powering social change. When a woman is able to earn a living and feed her family, her worth within the family increases significantly. As women become empowered economically, socially, personally, they grow to be leaders.

I made a new friend a few weeks ago, Adele Mattern, who is a designer and visual artist working in a wide range of mediums. She was the instructor of a Block Printing Workshop at Shephard & Maudsleigh Studios in Newton.  As a clothing designer for major retailers in the U.S., Adele shares her skills with the women of MarketPlace India in the production of textiles for the western market. She invests her heart into the cause and over the years has developed relationships with artisans like Rupa Trivedi of Adiv Natural and more. I admire her dedication to these women and her efforts to promote change through craftsmanship.


Travelling to Liverpool, England we learn about Sarah Corbett, an activist who is passionate about challenging injustices. She uses craft (particularly cross stitch) to engage herself and others in global issues in a nonthreatening and deeply engaging way. She puts craft and activism together to become Craftivism. The term Craftivism was coined by another notable, the American Betsy Greer as “… a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper.”

Corbett realized that many traditional forms of activism actually annoyed the very people she was trying influence so she traded her shouting, picket lines and screaming of demands for a ‘slow activism’ through making. Her small handstitched projects thoughtfully tackle issues of human rights, global poverty and social inequality. She has 2 publications A Little Book of Craftivisim and How To Be a Craftivist. The first title is a small book that outlines her mission and offers tutorials on effective craft practices for your own activism. For her it is about the activism first and the craft is practiced as a humane engager and communicating tool. The second title is a comprehensive statement that outlines the behaviors that effectively make change. Check out her shop for guidance and kits to support your own resistance.

Back here, in Chicago, Shannon Downey of Badass Cross Stitch is an artist, craftivist, community builder of her own kind. She “…blends her politics, activism and art into projects that are designed to inspire others to take action, think, discuss, engage with democracy and their community.”

Her tagline reads PUT MORE ANALOG IN YOUR DIGITAL. She believes the biggest cultural challenge in the U.S. is around finding a digital/analog balance. She created her movement to inspire, enable and encourage making while pushing boundaries to create monumental change and engaging without your phone.

 In 2018 she initiated a collaborative called Badass HERstory. She is inviting “Every woman, female identified, and gender nonbinary human on the planet to stitch their story.”

The goal is to have at least one million contributing to the largest installation project the world has ever seen and to have it be created by women. “One million new stitchers who put down their devices, learn to embroider, and use their hands and hearts to slow down and create a beautiful analog version of their story.”

Sharon works digitally too. She maintains a website with tutorials, galleries of work, events and ambassador training. Her blog entitled Seriously Badass Women profiles women who are doing “unbelievable things with their lives”. It is a forum for women to talk about what they do and share what they believe in - providing inspiration for the rest of us.

The most recent post, and what spurred me to pull these thoughts together, is about Beth Conrad McLaughlin. Beth is the chief curator at Fuller Craft Museum and she is “… passionate about exploring the ways in which handwork can be used as a tool for political resistance.”

I have the honor of working with Beth for her thoughtful show Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic at Fuller Craft Museum. She is bringing together artists working in craft-based media with families who have been impacted by the crisis. Eleven artists were chosen to meet with families and create new works inspired by our conversations and their stories.

My family is a single mom whose son overdosed on heroin/fentanyl. The pain and anguish was palpable and I was struck by how much loss is felt by the thousands affected by this epidemic. This inspired a 12-foot, 2-sided memorial of 3600 remembrance poppies with each poppy representing 200 individuals who have died due to opioid related complications. Please read my previous post, I’ll Get You My Pretty…, to learn more.

Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic will exhibit from September 28, 2019 – May 5, 2020. 
Please stay tuned as we add programs, dates and times.