South Whidbey fiber artist Cheryl Lawrence can think of 131 things to celebrate in 2019, and they happen to be the brave and powerful women sworn into the 116th U.S. Congress on the third day of January. Regardless of political affiliation and wide-ranging ideals, the historic number of females taking an oath to serve inspired the artist to create her collection of work titled “Democracy in Action: Celebrating the Women of the 116th Congress.”
Lawrence is highly regarded for creating intricate textile art using the ancient Japanese dyeing technique known as katazome.
For this project acknowledging the collective strength and influence of women in every level of politics, she has produced an impressive collection of 131 fabric katazome portraits. Each individual piece depicts a woman currently inhabiting the chambers of what was once a male bastion of power and prestige.
The works of art, which will be presented in the form of prayer flags at a gallery show opening at UUCWI Art Gallery on Sept. 7, happen to fall within a poignant 100-year anniversary period.
Two years after the first woman was elected to Congress in 1917, the hard-fought 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1919, finally giving women in America the right to vote.
As America prepares to celebrate the amendment’s 1920 ratification next year, Lawrence feels it’s important to acknowledge the ongoing struggles of women in positions of power. She notes that those who now embody the former dreams of suffragettes often face demeaning, abusive, and sometimes violent online comments that make her fear for their personal safety.
“The women of the 116th Congress are in the arena, daring greatly,” Lawrence said. “Each of these women, whatever their political views and personal values, has the courage to be seen, the courage to be heard, the courage to try to make a difference.”
The prayer flags comprising the artist’s current work weave an intrinsic narrative through centuries-old textile art techniques and block-print typography. The portraits of the 131 women draw energy from their unique personalities, infused with a never-ending panoply of powerful attributes represented by written words such as “commitment, diversity, emotion, justice, collaboration, balance, dignity, trust and vision.”
The katazome textile process used for Lawrence’s renditions utilizes a resist paste made from rice flour that passes through stencils, bringing the images to life on her multi-layered stitched fabric pieces. This project is unique in that she then invited 20 local women, ordinary friends and neighbors from the community, to “lend their creativity, hands and hearts” to the evolving project.
In a tongue-in-cheek twist on “The Squad” designation of four newly elected females to the U.S. House of Representatives, Lawrence dubbed her collaborative group the “Button and Bead Squad.” Each person received free rein to embellish the portrait panels with elements of their choosing as they worked together in sessions, more often than not discussing the work of democracy in America along the way.
“The result is a potpourri of diverse styles that reflect both the congresswomen and the strength and reality of America in 2019,” she said. “My squad and I were democracy in action, offering our creativity in support of our values and hopes,” she said.
Sandy Welch from the UUCWI Visual Arts Committee invites the public to the opening reception of the “Democracy in Action: Celebrating the Women of the 116th Congress” show on Saturday, Sept. 7, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. The reception takes place at UUCWI Gallery of Art at 20103 State Highway 525 in Freeland.