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Recent Work by Lily Booth and Dorothy Fitzgerald at Indigo Gallery

Dorothy Fitzgerald's "Repeat Step 3"
Lily Booth's "Salsa"

Needles and Pins

During the summer of 1973, I worked as a waitress on Cape Cod and spent many hours embroidering a replica of the Europe ‘72 Grateful Dead album cover onto the back of a work shirt. I have not seen many people wearing embroidered clothing lately and I have not spent time making any since that summer. Who has time for such things? Every young girl once learned needlework skills in preparation for domestic life. Most homes featured decorative cloths to protect furniture. I recall one pinned to the back of an upholstered chair at my grandmother’s home—a crocheted square with the words, Take A Seat My Dear, over an image of a deer. She crocheted, sewed, and painted pleasing scenes with paint-by-number kits. I learned from her the pleasure of making things with my hands. Flea markets are now filled with these items once made by somebody’s grandmother. Lily Booth and Dorothy Fitzgerald honor these lost artforms that occupied the time of so many women’s lives. The show’s title is a quote by the twentieth century sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, whose autobiographical art was often themed around the human need for protection in a frightening world. Her impact on artists working today is revealed in this assembly of provocative handmade works that utilize simple materials. Booth employs traditional methods of sewing, embroidery, and cut-paper to produce objects that carry unexpected messages. Fitzgerald is a painter who incorporates flea market “fancy work” as collage elements in her image-based abstract paintings.

The gallery’s storefront window displays a white cotton slip on a wooden hanger—a white cotton eyelet parasol hangs from above. Booth’s fabrications are subtle—look closely. At a glance, a passerby might view this as a vintage clothing shop window. Notice the rope-like stitching tied around the garment titled Put it to bed. The umbrella of delicate fabric may be reminiscent of summer dresses, but is that the shape of an airplane appliquéd onto the surface—a symbol of the warring world? This one appears to be a Predator UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), also known as a Drone. Along with the bits of found needlework and other embedded ephemera, Fitzgerald includes occasional words and figures (women and animals) in her layered textural paintings. Her titles remind me of Jenny Holtzer’s Truisms. Moods show in your needlework. Don’t dress badly even if your allowance is small. Hold in place with nails. Fitzgerald explains that she is in collaboration with the unknown makers of the needlework cloths. The paintings invite a conversation with the viewer to peer through the veils to deeper meaning and engagement.

Feminist art of the 1970s expanded the territory of fine art as it mined imagery and materials of the domestic and personal spheres. New interest was focused on pattern and decoration, textiles, and needlework. Miriam Shapiro developed Femmage, a hybrid of painting and fabric collage that included feminine iconography. The personal became political. Thread became a stand in for the pencil and paintbrush. Decades later, post-modern art includes needlework that is Meta craft. Approaches to work, such as Extreme Embroidery, Radical Lace, and Subversive Knitting have been popularized as accepted mediums of self-expression way beyond the art of functionality. Booth and Fitzgerald reinvent old forms to produce non-sentimental art that entertains complex ideas. Central to the main gallery is a homey arrangement of armchair, side table, and lamp before a red arched wall. Booth’s needlework of furry treelike foliage decorates cloths covering the chair arms and back. A vintage pink lamp covered with a plain linen shade, titled Scarier with the lights on, has a secret. Turn the light on and an image of a handgun appears in shadow underneath the surface of the shade. Fitzgerald’s piece, Fill in your life with interests, located in the upstairs gallery, seems to be in dialogue with Booth’s chair, as evidenced by the remnant of lush green stitchery that is collaged onto the surface of her painting. It is quite similar to Booth’s handiwork on the decorative armchair covers—a curious coincidence discovered by the artists as they arranged the show (mentioned to me by Elizabeth Samuels).

Another Louise Bourgeois quote is printed on the wall behind the chair: “The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not the pin.” Pins can cause pain and bleeding, as we see in Fitzgerald’s Repeat Step 3. Anyone who has attempted sewing understands this, but how many people today have touched a needle or pin? Who still sews on loose buttons, repairs ripped seams, or darns holes in socks? Needles, pins, and thread require scissors. Booth’s pink-eared kittens nestle inside a straw sombrero that dangles from a string tied onto a branch of flowers (Salsa), but watch out for the scissor blades about to cut the string. A series called Fortune’s Wheel shows repeated embroidered imagery of a crowned girl with toys at her feet—various formations of a story conclude with an actual girl’s dress hanging from the ceiling and casting mysterious shadows below. Consider the skirt of the dress as the wheel of fate circling around an individual life of choice and circumstance. Booth’s most recent work explores the early American tradition of cut-paper silhouettes, revived as a fine art medium in the last decade by Kara Walker and others. She snips intricate forms that give new meaning to mythological themes, such as St. George and the Dragon. Cut from a throwaway paper filter bag, this one shows a canister vacuum cleaner with a long curvy hose spewing out refuse alongside a tiny figure of a woman heroically battling an everyday housecleaning task. Both artists have a light touch that allows humor into the reading of their visual stories. While Booth’s work has a shape-shifting quality, Fitzgerald’s action takes place on the surface of a large sheet of paper. Their individual communications overlap with one another as they thread narratives through a cultural, political, and social landscape that is our world—past, present, and future. This is a show to spend time with.

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