On Monday September 21st. Beverly Gordon delivered her lecture - "Why Textiles Matter" to a sold out crowd at the Maiwa Textile Symposium. It was a far- ranging talk that was almost a survey of the entirety of human endeavour.
Many people have claimed that there is a certain quality that defines us as human. Tool use. laughter. Grammar. Beverly posits that making textiles is also a uniquely human act.
Beverly was introduced by Toby Smith. Many have asked that we post her introduction, and so we are happy to include it here:
Candace Cantaloupe collected doilies. They were of every colour, size, pattern, and quality. They were layered on every surface in her home. Her friends tortured Candace Cantaloupe for this frivolity. No serious feminist should be caught with doilies. The doily, they alleged, is the soul of the trivial. Doilies are silly, unimportant, stupid, contemptuous, and a colossal waste of time. If bubble-gum pink were a textile, surely it would be a doily.
Candace was a student in a course I used to teach called Costume and Textiles as Political Discourse. As part of their coursework each student had to create a costume or textile that made a social or political statement.
Candace made a dress. All the material that went into this complicated garment was a product of women’s hand-work produced for the home. The skirt was an old hand-embroidered linen table cloth. She used layers of embroidered aprons to build out the hips on either side, emphasizing the female shape. The bodice was made entirely of doilies. Indeed, doilies were a major feature of the dress. They formed the pockets. They capped the sleeves. They were made into rosettes that flowed down the side like a cascade of frilly roses.
The goal of Candace was to draw attention to the disregard for women’s work in the home. The aprons and table cloth symbolized cooking, preserving, and housework. Every piece of fabric was embellished with hours of handwork, giving even the most tedious aspects of domestic drudge a certain beauty and attention. Doilies are the ultimate signifier of decoration. But home decoration is no trivial thing. It is the medium through which the Home-Maker creates a comfortable, cozy nest for her family, a nest that provides a sense of well-being and emotional security to its inhabitants. The home is the calm eye in the middle of the raging storm.
However, in our society we measure value not in homes decorated, children raised, laundry done, gardens planted, or fruit preserved, but in dollars and cents. A penny is the lowest value in this system, and in Canada now, the penny is so worthless that we have eliminated it. Candace drilled holes in pennies and hung them from the hem of the dress. Such is women’s domestic work in the home: invisible in its ordinariness, misunderstood in its decoration, and worthless in its value.
This is just one story that a textile can tell. Textiles can reveal the profound in the cloak of the mundane. Beverly Gordon’s writings are full of such stories. She not only understands the importance of women’s textile work, but she has written many articles and books detailing exactly this. I have read only three of them and I am moved by her sensitive and thoughtful analysis of women’s textile practices.
In preparing this introduction, I emailed Beverly Gordon and asked for a bio. In the ‘be careful what you wish for’ category, I got back two CV’s. Two.
Beverly was born in New York. She has lived in Madison, Wisconsin since 1978. She is widely travelled but is wintering in Florida these days.
Beverly Gordon received her BA in Comparative Literature from the U of Wisconsin. She went on to achieve both an MA in Textiles, and a PhD in Design History.
She had a long and successful academic career with many books and articles to her credit. She retired in 2011 from the U of Wisconsin after 21 years.
She has also been an Associate Fellow at the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has been a Textile Interpreter and Curatorial Asst at the Hancock Shaker Village. She has taught a wide range of academic and practical courses, including weaving and fibre arts.
Beverly Gordon has held many important posts and has been involved in too many aspects of textile education and exhibition to catalogue here. She has won grants and awards and has consulted on many textile projects in the curatorial and museum communities.
Of her many publications I will mention only Textiles: The Whole Story: Uses, Meanings, Significance, because it is so comprehensive and because Maiwa carries it in the shop. It is here tonight.
Beverley Gordon has explored textiles from every possible angle, from the spindle to the spiritual, so we can’t go wrong tonight. Please welcome a woman who I am sure knows the value of a doily, Beverly Gordon.