When I was asked to create a portrait of Senator Tammy Baldwin for In Her Hands, I researched her life, her work in the Senate and imagery from the state of Wisconsin. I wanted to make a panoply of imagery and words, in my usual style of threads and small parts to make a suit that gave an impression of strength.
In thinking about the construction, a few things were on my mind. The portraits of former President Obama and the First lady had been unveiled. I remember a bit of public disbelief at the contemporary portraits at first. In the President’s (by Kehinde Wiley), the ivy was confusing to some but it spoke to me right away. Men like the former President are here to stay and be counted… among the ivy. Ivy is a plant that digs in the cracks and can destroy buildings if left to over-run. I thought the imagery to say that people of color were pulling apart the old ways-make way for us, as we are staying and rebuilding the world.
The violet is the state flower of Wisconsin. Violets are not “shrinking” like the old adage. It has a lateral vine, and will take over a yard if left unchecked. It disrupts the suburban lawn and uproots grass. In LGBT history, violets were often given in the early part of the last century as a symbol of love and affiliation among lesbians, a secret code. The Senator is an openly gay person, and part of the LGBT community. Utilizing the flower as some imagery in the piece seemed appropriate.
The anniversary if the 19th Amendment is also coming up. Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the Amendment. I started to think about how the Senator–and really all of the candidates whose portraits are in the show–are the epitome of what these ladies fought for, starved for, went to prison for. I read about making embroidery from scraps to pass the time while incarcerated. I decided to embroider the Senator’s official portrait, and put it on a rosette pin, in the style of a Suffragette pin I had seen. The colors of that movement were purple, white and green–not unlike violets. The pin ruffles I made more “USA” red, white and blue with a background of the Suffragette colors.
For the suit, I started to think of a patch of violets more seriously and took pictures of violets in my neighborhood. Among the violets on the suit I have imagery of Suffragettes, several from Wisconsin. There are a lot of photographs of women protesting but no known names. I purposefully did not include anyone famous, as there were so many who fought without any public recognition. I have them looking out from the violets. Cascading down the jacket are pieces of legislation of the Senator. The pants are made up of close-ups of Suffragettes garb in prison, and violets coming from the bottom. A belt is made of violet postcards from 1890-1920. All of the imagery is die cut photographs, cut into ovals, a nod to scales or portraiture in its shape.
Overall, I want the impression of an armor of images. The portraits of women long past, edging the Senator forward as she is what they wished for. Women are here to stay in politics.
In Her Hands is up at Robert Mann Gallery until August 17 with many other portraits of progressive women candidates. Get out to vote!