Today I visited the Hummelstown Area Historical Society to view a new exhibition, A Stitch in Time – 200 Years of Sewing in Hummelstown. The show features works from the museum’s collection as well as loaned items from area families. If you take a look at my previous post on the Hummelstown craft fair, you will see why I am drawn to the museum.
While this blog is an account of modern work, history is the foundation of an artist’s or crafter’s inspiration. We use and build upon old techniques and materials, we are influenced by the art we have seen, and we are reacting to the past when we bring forth new ideas. American culture has a fondness for romanticizing the past. Collective memory softens the edges. In this way, we are kind and forgiving.
There were several women demonstrating their craft. I spoke with a women, Shaun Levi, who was weaving on a loom. She has been weaving for about two years and loves the calming, meditative aspect of the craft. I took this picture of her at work on a cotton shawl. In the background is a rack with some of her work.
The majority of the items on display were home decor and clothing. There was also a small collection of doll clothes and several sewing machines. The earliest machine on display was a Howe from the 1860’s. On the first floor of the parish house was a display describing needlework techniques along with example pieces. While many items in art museums never get displayed in a home, this exhibition was of objects that were made specifically to beautify a dwelling or a person. Some of the works were made by women who had very little money or power in their lives. Home decor was a way for them to have beautiful things in a way that they controlled. I have spoken to many hobby crafters and artists who cite that making a beautiful object helps them to cope with the stressful aspects of their lives. I suspect that the feelings we get when we make art is ancient and can help us to understand our ancestors.
Often, we think of art as a public display. This stems from the prominence of art museums. An art object in a museum can be viewed by thousands of people. The arts and crafts on display at the historical society were meant to be enjoyed by a handful of people. They are personal objects — many of them intended as gifts to a loved one. To look at these table cloths, samplers, and pillows is to glimpse into the lives of the people who made them.