Prism Play – Part One, Seeing Red
Interesting times call for interesting challenges! A regional call for art inspired the next two pieces I’ll be talking about. The call was for monochromatic pieces measuring 15 inches wide by 45 inches long. The accepted pieces will be displayed in prismatic groups.
I signed up indicating that I was interested in making some pieces for this call and was assigned the colors red and yellow. I was sent color cards from the Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom. And then, the suffering began! This was truly difficult for me! No white, no black, only shades of the color you were assigned. The size and colors felt constrained and limiting at first. I started so many ideas that ultimately just weren’t suited to this format that I had to set aside for another day. In retrospect, I think it’s now one of my favorite sizes and really want to make other pieces with this aspect ratio!
Both of these pieces were challenges for me – primarily because I made them difficult!
I have a lot to say about my red piece, aptly named Seeing Red.
This isn’t what I originally started working on. The original idea was one that just wasn’t suited to the size restrictions. Once I set that aside, I came up for air and was thinking about the protests that were happening during all of 2021 which led me to thinking about other protests and then to the history of protests in the United States. I totally fell down the rabbit hole in looking up all the protests/riots/marches that occurred since what we consider to be our nation’s original protest – the Boston Tea Party.
I knew that I didn’t want to make up signs but wanted them to be historically accurate. That meant I needed to find actual pictures of the signs/flags/banners whether they were photographs or artist illustrations made to record the events – usually for newspapers. That was tricky! I wanted to try to represent signs from every decade but had to keep that as a guide, not an achievable goal.
While researching signs, you could see that there were times when materials to make signs were scarce, so they were limited. Also, it seems to me that there was for a period of time almost an etiquette to some of the protest marches where the only signs or banners they carried were ones that looked professionally made. As disposable materials became more readily available, the signs started changing and definitely showed more individuality of expression.
While making list of possible protests, I was also looking up images of the Boston Tea Party that were copyright free. I found the perfect image at a site advertising a lecture from 2011 at the American Antiquarian Society in Massachusetts. The image was obviously from a book but was uncredited. I ended up contacting their associated library and their Library and Program Assistant Brianne Barrett was amazing. She looked through just about every book she could think of and then some with no luck. As we couldn’t determine the copyright status at that point, she offered me the use of two other images. Unfortunately, I’m stubborn and the other two just wouldn’t do. On a whim, I looked up the speaker from 2011 that this image was helping to advertise and was able to locate him. Benjamin Carp is an Associate Professor of American History at Brooklyn College. Amazingly, he responded within 30 minutes of receiving my email querying the origins of the piece. He told me that it was the frontispiece of Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents relating to the Shipment of Tea… by Francis S. Drake written in 1884. No credit is given for the engraving used. It was in the public domain! I was then able to go back to the ever patient librarian and let her know where to find it. A week later, I had a glorious image from the library and was ready to go! I can’t thank these lovely people enough for helping me out for such a seemingly small thing!
The research and creation of each sign truthfully took an exorbitant amount of time that hardly merits this size of a piece, but it was fascinating and so worth it! I learned so much – some good and some incredibly sad. We as a nation have a long history of protesting, rioting, of destruction of personal property, and of violence against others in the name of keeping our country safe/pure/substitute whatever rationale you’d like here. Since 1773, not a decade has gone by without at least one racially motivated or anti-immigrant riot/protest/march. It seems like we should have progressed beyond this by now.
A little about the color red and its link to the United States. Charles Thomson who was the Secretary of the Continental Congress talked about the colors chosen for the seal said that the red was for hardiness and valor. I think it’s more important to note that they deliberately chose the same colors that were in the Union Jack – the flag of England. In looking into why the Union Jack used the color red I found that the flag combines three separate flags. The red happens to be from the flag of St. George, the patron saint of England. The red cross on a white background was chosen to identify the English crusaders so the color red has a long history of being used to “march.” I just found that fascinating.
The gorgeous piece of gradient fabric was custom dyed for me by Vicki Welsh of Colorways. Her work is just stunning. I had sent her the red color card and we talked about the range of colors we wanted in this piece. I thank her so much for this great piece of fabric!
For those interested, here is the list of protests that are represented in this piece:
1773 Boston Tea Party
1791 Whiskey Rebellion
1839 Anti-Rent War
1844 Philadelphia Nativist Riots
1855 Bloody Monday
1861 American Civil War
1863 Southern Bread Riots
1863 New York City Draft Riots
1877 Great Railroad Strike
1886 Haymarket Riot
1913 Women’s Suffrage
1919 May Day Riots
1919 Red Summer
1925 Ku Klux Klan March on Washington
1928 Textile Strike
1932 Bonus Army March
1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
1965 Selma March
1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam
1969 Occupation of Alcatraz
1970 Kent State/Cambodian Incursion Protest
1979 Anti-Nuclear Weapon March
1979 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights
1981 Solidarity Day March
1986 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights
1987 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights
1995 Million Man March
1997 Million Woman March
2002 Protest Against the Iraq War
2004 March for Women’s Lives
2006 Great American Boycott
2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
2013 March for Life
2014 People’s Climate March
2015 Armenian March for Justice
2017 Women’s March
2017 Day Without Immigrants
2017 March for Science
2018 Women’s March
2018 March for Science
2019 Women’s March
2019 Telegramgate Protests
2019 March for Science
2020 Women’s March
2020 George Floyd Protests
2020 Million MAGA March
2021 January 6th March on the Capitol
2021 Unity Against Hate
2021 Reproductive Rights
2021 Voting Rights
I’ll close with my official artist statement for the piece:
Red, the color of passion, anger, and sometimes blood. The United States began with the Boston Tea Party and we continue to protest, riot, and march down the long road of time to make our voices heard and to effect change. Beginning with one ship, there are 506 signs, flags, and banners selected from 51 marches/protests/riots spanning 248 years.
As a nation and a textile, these are imperfectly woven together with frayed edges and loose threads. As citizens, we fight the same fights year after year with seemingly very little improvement. Since the Boston Tea Party, no decade has gone by without one or more anti-immigrant and racially motivated protests/riots. The protests often involved violence, destruction of property and personal violence.
Red also can symbolize love. That gives me hope that someday we can do better.