“Critical Stitch” at the Nott Memorial

Posted on November 8, 2010 at 10:49 pm
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Do you often put “embroidery” and “subversive” in the same sentence? I didn’t think so. Here is your chance though, and look not further than Schenectady, NY. A few weeks ago I checked “Critical Stitch” at the Mandeville Gallery in the Nott Memorial, on display until December 19, 2010. The show brings contemporary artists who incorporate sewing, embroidery, knitting, and other related techniques in works which critically examine a broad range of social and cultural issues. If the union between once marginalized techniques and social commentary seems incongruous at first, you might be surprised by this humorous and intriguing visual journey curated by Lorraine Morales Cox.

More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.

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Header photo: “Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons: Carolina Parakeet” by Laurel Roth (2009). Needle-working artists in the show include: Vadis Turner, Dave Cole, Laurel Roth, Tamara Kostianovsky, Alicia Ross, Mark Newport, Rob Conger, Barb Hunt, Richard Bassett, Lauren DiCioccio, Margarita Cabrera, and Johanna Unzueta.

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This little trip gave me an opportunity to visit the Mandeville Gallery, hosted in the beautiful Nott Memorial at Union College (above). More info and photos of this 16-sided stone-masonry building at the end of this post.

What immediately strikes in this exhibition is the association between traditional “domestic media” and mature topics. It is the kind of craft I would usually connect to stereotypical themes like maternity, femininity, warmth, gentleness, but the artists moved beyond these old expectations to provide a whole different discourse.

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PMS Quilt” by Laurel Roth (2007). Click for larger view. Like many other pieces in this exhibition, I liked the contrast between the rich material, the elegant execution and the content, often discomforting or taboo.

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Antipersonnel” by Barb Hunt (2005). A “lovely” assortment of mines and grenades. Soft, warm, meet the deadly. Quoting the gallery: “Who says you can’t use knitting to comment on the U.S. military industrial complex?”.

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Alicia Ross has a few creations in the show, here is one (above). The photo isn’t doing it justice, but I found that using a thread itself to create bondage art was a simple and great idea. It really meshes the subject and the “tools” in one unique, cohesive piece.

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Bound” by Tamara Kostianovsky (2007). That’s another poor photo here, sorry for the shadows; trust me, you want a piece of that.

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Work by Lauren Dicioccio (2009). Empty, discarded water bottles reincarnated as pieces of hand-embroidered organza. Very delicate.

There are many other creations to find at the gallery, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Kevlar Onesies, anyone? Check the the slideshow or drive straight to Union College in Schenectady. Why not stop to Chez Daisie on your way, for a French crepe, or to Aperitivo Bistro for a Nutella pizza…


Critical Stich is on display October 07, 2010 to December 19, 2010. The Mandeville Gallery can be found at the Nott Memorial on the Union College campus, 807 Union Street, Schenectady, NY, 12309 (see directions and Facebook page). It is open Mon – Sun, 10am to 6pm, free (518) 388-6729.

The Nott Memorial

The Nott Memorial is a gorgeous building to put a gallery in. Its shape makes for an interesting challenge too. The building serves as both architectural and physical centerpiece of Union College in Schenectady, NY. Dedicated to Eliphalet Nott, president of Union from 1804 to 1866), the 110-foot (34 m) high by 89-foot (27 m) wide structure is a National Historic Landmark (source: Wikipedia, for most of this section).

The Memorial was designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, alumnus of the college, and grandson of President Nott. Construction began in 1858 and was completed in 1879. In 1993 the college began a complete renovation of the Nott, restoring it to its original design. It reopened in 1995 on the celebration of Union’s 200th anniversary.

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The center of the building is open to the top of its dome 102 feet (31 m) overhead. The main floor (photo above) is a meeting room; the second and third levels ring the space and include galleries and meeting places for students. Lucky, lucky students.  The light entering this building is just striking, especially around sunset, courtesy of 288 restored stained glass windows bathing the interior (photo below).

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The dome (below) is sprinkled with 709 small colored glass windows, or illuminators, each about the size of a silver dollar. The illuminators are arranged in a complex pattern that unites the interior and exterior dome decoration and includes the entire Newtonian spectrum of colors (again, according to the Wiki; this pattern completely escaped me, better luck next time).

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It is one spectacular building I wish I had visited before, definitely worth the trip alone. I hope Union students enjoy its heft. I need to find photos of my university back in Frenchland, what a splendid piece of concrete it was.

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  1. Albany Jane says:

    I have so much inspiration for my crocheting now! Thanks, Seb!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for sharing!! I love the contrast of material and subject matter…really makes you think :)

2 Pingbacks

  1. Nippertown! says:

    [...] Barre has posted a thoughtful and eyepopping overview and phototour of the Critical Stitch show currently on view at Union College’s Mandeville Gallery. The exhibit runs through December [...]

  2. Nippertown! says:

    [...] witnessed by this broad-ranging exhibit that examines and offers social commentary on modern life. Read more about it here. (Through December [...]