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In stitches

Art, ornament and political resistance in embroidery

Art, ornament and political resistance in embroidery

January 08, 2009|By CHRIS COPLEY

It's easy, in an age when machines can crank out complicated embroidery for hats, shirts and jackets, to forget that history viewed needlecrafts differently.

Elizabeth Graff, member of the Hagerstown chapter of the Embroiderer's Guild of America, points to a 1797 German sampler.

"Textiles were among the most valuable things in the (late 18th-century European) household," Graff says. "They were handed down as heirlooms. In (19th-century) China, embroidery was ranked above painting."

Graff stands in a staging area at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts with museum director Rebecca Massie Lane. They look over recently received textile artworks that are part of Threads That Bind: Unraveling the Meaning of Embroidery, an exhibit opening this weekend at the museum.

The show includes 35 works produced during the past 300 years by artists in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. The items present embroidery not just as ornamentation but as an educational tool, a badge of identity and an expression of political resistance.

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The show will be on display from Saturday, Jan. 10, through Sunday, March 1. A public reception will take place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25.

The works cover a wide range of needlecraft from a variety of cultures and historical eras. Graff and Lane gingerly unwrap a few items - two 19th-century Chinese rank badges featuring goldwork and silk thread on black silk; a contemporary Bangladeshi work picturing idealized scenes from a young woman's life; and the old, German sampler, showing alphabets, border designs and small images of religious and daily life.

The show also includes kimonos, court coats from 18th-century France, Chilean arpilleras - three-dimensional appliqu textiles made by women to protest political repression - and samplers from Scotland, Spain and the United States.




If you go ...



WHAT: Threads That Bind: Unraveling the Meaning of Embroidery

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 10, through Sunday, March 1; reception at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, features a talk by Carol Peao Dam, president of the Embroiderer's Guild of America.

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown

COST: Free; donations requested.

CONTACT: Call 301-739-5727, e-mail info@wcmfa.org or go to www.wcmfa.org.

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