I don’t often get to spend a Saturday morning sewing and watching my favorite sewing show on PBS/OPB but that was the case a couple of weeks ago. I love to watch Quilting Arts TV and one segment made me stop what I was doing and pay close attention. Quilt artist Lea McComas was interviewed about her quilt titled Women’s Work. I was captivated by the concept and her execution of this complex idea.
Women’s Work was designed to be hung in the Clinton Presidential Library and celebrates women’s contributions to our history. It is one of several quilts in the exhibit celebrating the theme of Women’s Voices. The 57 women McComas chose to include represent the sciences, education, government, civil rights, and the arts.
McComas was inspired by an art piece currently hanging in the Pope’s residence in the Vatican. Raphael’s painting – the School of Athens. This painting features a large number of men gathered in small groups in a palatial building. Her setting includes large columns and cross beams supporting a glass ceiling. If you look in the background you can see women climbing the ladder through a hole in the ceiling. Women’s Work is a large piece at 8 by 10 feet.
The women are grouped based on their various contributions – regardless of their lifespan – some of these women would never have had the opportunity to know each other based on when (or where) they lived. For example – in the center lower part of the quilt McComas included both Ruby Bridges and Malala Yousafzi to represent education. Malala Yousafzi the education activist is holding hands with Ruby Bridges – the first black child to integrate into a school. As represented in this quilt – Ruby was 6 (in 1960), living in Mississippi and Malala was 16 (in 2015) living in London (after she was shot in her home country of Pakistan in an assassination attempt on her life when she was 14).
An amazing study in perspective. McComas demonstrated (on the program) how she achieved the proper scale for each piece of this project by using one central reference figure and yarn and pins to scale up or down – all of the other people and elements of this quilt.
In addition to everything else this piece represents – I love how McComas chose to break the boundaries of the quilt by allowing some elements to extend beyond the traditional straight edges.
The artist included herself and her stepdaughter in the lower left of the quilt – Lea is sharing the stories included in the quilt with her stepdaughter. The concept is one of women passing on these stories from one generation to the next.
McComas wrote a companion book that includes information about the quilt as well as biographies of every woman she included in the quilt.
Women’s Work is currently on display (through April 30th) at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Arkansas.
For more information:
- Lea McComas – Fiber Artist
- Lea McComas – Women’s work
- Video – Lea McComas at the Clinton Presidential Library
- Clinton Presidential Library – Women’s Voices