by Edith Cody-Rice
The Mississippi Mills Textile Museum currently is running a luminous exhibition which is a unique exploration into the history of this area’s woolen mills and the workers’. The exhibit, in an all white gallery glimmers with light.
Noelle Hamlyn (Mississauga, ON) calls her pieces in this exhibition Sweetness of the Work. Using salt, Noelle Hamlyn showcases crystalized textile artifacts. Representing the long hours invested in repetitive industrial work, these crystallized creations evoke the sweat, labour, and tears of the workers, together with the loss of the industry. The exhibit also hints at the political importance of cloth and the social roles of women and children 150 years ago. In her statement of work, she says,
Sweetness of the Work is a collection of pieces created in homage to hand work – usually completed by women. Using lace as a metaphor and employing contemporary embroidery techniques, I sought to embody the accumulated stitches, labour and hours invested in traditional women’s hand work. Many of the pieces in the collection have been washed, exposed to saline solutions and nurtured to encourage the formation of salt crystals. These crystals are like the sweat labour and salt tears of the seamstress – a gentle meditation on the loss of traditional hand skills. The intensity of the embroidery and the strength of the resulting lace spoke to me about the repetitive nature of hand work, and the density of the layers of embroidery hinted at the political importance of cloth and the social role of women.
Jenny McMaster (Gatineau, QC) uses maps as a tool for her art. Historic maps of Almonte from the Museum’s permanent collection inspired the works of fibre art created for this exhibit. They ranged from municipal insurance maps from 150 years ago to blueprints showing the redirected water forced through the turbines of the local mills. In here work statement Ms. McMaster states,
This collection of fibre based maps was prompted by a request from the curator of MVTM. Michael Rikley-Lancaster asked me to create a series of art works in response to the archival maps housed at the Museum. He was keen to set me to work bringing to light some fascinating items from the city of Almonte’s visual history. My research into these maps has revealed the industrial and urban development brought about by the water power provided by the Mississippi River. The former Rosamond Wool Mill, which now houses the museum, would never have come into existence if it were not for this body of water.
The sources for this series range from a simple line map, drawn in 1829, to Google Earth’s checkered grid of photographs. One thing which fascinated me about the documents I was drawing from was how the shape and angle of the river changed from map to map although the very same water and land massed were being portrayed. The perspective and methodologies of the cartographers, as well as the interests of the town’s inhabitants, seemed to change the very shape of Lanark County. It was not until the advent of satellite photos that a constant pattern emerged
Noelle Hamlyn also displays clothes made of Japanese gampi paper, meticulously crafted, she says of her work,
In creating Sweetness of the Work, I looked at three women in particular – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos – known as the Three Fates. Clotho is the spinner, creating the thread of life, and is represented by salted spools and bobbins of hand spun paper. Lachesis is responsible for the creation and measurement of the cloth and is represented in Sweetness of the Work by the tools of the trade – thimbles, needles and thread. Finally, Atropos is the cutter of the thread and cloth and is represented by paper cast and embroidered scissors. Collectively, these three women are referred to as the Moirai in Greek mythology – inspiring the title of the embroidery and knitting works in which the spinner, measurer and cutter have come together. Fate, salt, and hand work … the domains of women.
Ms. Hamlyn also exhibits unique bricks cast from mill workers’ clothes to commemorate the work of mill workers. In her statement of work, she writes of the bricks,
Dust settles, glass shards lie like broken teeth
Footsteps echo into darkened corners
A room remembers.
Memory ossifies into hardened matter
Frozen bones, alone in silence sleep
A building clenches jaw, fists, shoulders hunching
Plaster casting encrusting, encasing
Brick on brick
Calcified walls of memory
There is something touching, enigmatic and powerful about empty shoes lined up. This device was used to great effect at the National Gallery of Canada some years ago when museum employees were forbidden the right to picket. They simply lined pairs of shoes up on the entrance plaza. They made a powerful statement.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Mississippi River Power Corporation. Th exhibition runs until December 16