SUBMITTED BY AMY MEISSNER
I am the 12th first born daughter to a first born daughter, a Swedish line that stretches to 1640. My personal collection of family linens is in a trunk I’ve dragged from Nevada to Canada to Alaska; I’m no stranger to women’s handwork or inherited items, the bulk of which has at various moments felt like a burden. I admire the work, but no part of it feels comfortable to me despite having been taught how to embroider, crochet and sew at a very young age. When the back has to look as beautiful as the front, traditional techniques that shape the will and model striving also generate an unattainable perfection for a young girl. At times I’ve dismissed these objects, but it’s this conflict that draws them into my art practice.
The Inheritance Project began in 2015 when a woman sent a box filled with old, hand crafted cloth “to deconstruct” any way I liked, a stranger’s act that became the catalyst for a multi-year effort to collect unused, unfinished or unwanted vintage linens. Despite asking contributors for associated histories, the majority of makers, origins and timelines still remains unknown. In the spirit of generosity and a resulting catharsis for many, over 80 contributors have now sent more than 650 objects, with known origins representing 20 countries and 25 states. The rigorous process of corresponding, documenting and considering each piece of unrestricted cloth informed the solo exhibition, Inheritance: makers. memory. myth, which debuted at the Anchorage Museum in 2018, then traveled to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
These salvaged embroideries, linens and crocheted items embody the original makers’ intentions for beauty, home and possibility. Difficult to discard, but burdensome to store, this cloth was saved for grandchildren, saved for someday, with the very best saved for never. Cutting such material apart and reconfiguring it for a contemporary context means sifting through the tangible and intangible detritus of women’s lives. Some of it speaks long after its solitary makers no longer can.
My work with needle explores this literal, physical and emotional work of women — gathering the collective murmur in women’s handwork and combining it with my own to generate a new mythology. I approach this textile work with traditional skills and time, confronting expectations of beauty with a raw female gaze. The resulting narrative does more to reveal an emotional truth about a life than any partial or assumed history. Completing a story feels human, crafting by hand even more so.
Despite conflicted emotions around inherited objects, ideals and perceptions, we continue this potent ritual of insisting what we create has value, even if useless, unwanted, outdated — even if conjured from scraps of a life. History has left behind a swath of unknown women embroiderers, crocheters, quiltmakers, weavers, tatters. Further cast aside are the specters of creative work these women never had the opportunity to make at all, justifying their literal and emotional effort by creating for domestic purpose, sacrificing material and internal exploration for society’s surface ideals of beauty. I’m driven to pick up the needle where they’ve left it stabbed, gather the emotional residue, and tell a different story.
Alaska artist, Amy Meissner, combines traditional handwork, found objects and abandoned textiles to reference the literal, physical and emotional work of women. She has shown internationally, with textile work in the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum, the Contemporary Art Bank of Alaska and the Alaska Humanities Forum as well as many private collections. Her solo exhibition Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. debuted at the Anchorage Museum in May 2018, then travels in 2019. Her background is in clothing design, illustration and creative writing. Portfolio and blog at www.amymeissner.com.