Topsham embroidery exhibit has many stories to tell

Posted May 24, 2010, at 6:28 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:54 p.m.

Christine Macchi, executive director of Maine Fiberarts, sent this information about an exhibit that will have those of you who embroider all a-twitter:

Maine Fiberarts has on display the intriguing embroideries and mixed-media creations of artist Jill Snyder Wallace of Minot. The exhibit, “Between Fact and Fiction: Embroidered Stories,” is on view through June 30 at Maine Fiberarts Center and Gallery, 13 Main St., Topsham.

The artist will give a gallery talk about her work from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 26. Her topic will be “Embroidered Stories: Motivation Behind the Making.” The event is free and open to the public.

Snyder Wallace’s featured works represent more than 20 years of creativity in this, her first solo exhibition. Trained in graphic design and studio arts, her artistic creations live comfortably in both the craft and art worlds. As gallery coordinator for the League of N.H. Craftsmen, her eyes were opened to the art of the hand. A love of history nurtured by past employment at the Pejepscot Historical Society piqued her interest in material culture and the stories objects tell. Her desire to learn and to experiment with new techniques is fueled by membership in the Southern Maine Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America.

Exploring women’s social history through their needlework and Victorian crafts continues to influence Snyder Wallace’s work. Studying traditional needlework techniques and altering them to address contemporary women’s issues has provided an endless source of inspiration. By using a wide vocabulary of embroidery stitches and the inclusion of found objects, mixed-media fiber art steeped in women’s work associations are created.

Her stitch vocabulary includes pulled and drawn threads, hardanger and other counted-thread techniques to include satin stitch and cross-stitch. Free-form or surface embroidery, beadwork and crochet also are used. Her found objects are collected from flea markets or received as gifts from friends.

Snyder Wallace’s creations are intimate in scale and worthy of close inspection. Although beautiful in appearance, there is often an unsettling aspect. For example, in her embroidered piece “Mend, Tend and Iron” a harried mother of the Victorian era irons with a heavy implement she had to heat on a wood stove while holding a fretful infant. The embroidered part of the piece is mounted on what appears to be the remains of a rusty metal piece shaped like an iron, implying that the woman is being crushed under the weight of her duties.

Snyder Wallace’s piece “Machine Stitched,” which is embroidered and appliqued, takes for its theme a quote by Catherine E. Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Beecher comments about how the newly invented sewing machine takes work away from needlewomen, who until that point in time sewed by hand. Beecher says that women who use the sewing machine for work become diseased and unable to raise children. In the piece, a sewing machine is placed in the belly of a delicate-looking Victorian-era woman, implying that the device is more of a dead weight in a woman’s life than a labor-saving device.

“I find a voice through making art that is not available to me otherwise,” said Snyder Wallace. “This labor-of-love medium enables me to explore and to comment on history, as well as to digest contemporary experiences and to express personal emotion.”

Exhibiting throughout New England, Snyder Wallace’s “Lost Industry” is traveling with the Fuller Craft Museum exhibit “The Perfect Fit: Shoes Tell Stories.”

For more information or to see a preview of the artist’s work, visit www.mainefiberarts.org or call 721-0678.

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