A Cloud of Witnesses
This old photograph captures the essence of what I try to preserve in this blog – ordinary people, finding a sense of competence in knowing a skill of handwork — maybe even finding companionship and comfort there too.
Notice the handwork samples on the wall behind them. They are gathered together to show what they have learned, to display their work. But notice the ones who even as they pose, seem to be completing a few more stitches or adjusting the position of the thread.
Let me enlarge the picture so you can see the individual women better.
They are dressed in clean white shirtwaists, most of them with the fashionable pompadour hairstyle of 1900. But these are not fine ladies doing delicate drawn thread work or embroidery; they are working on simple, more functional projects, with inexpensive materials. Some are making baskets, and some are making mats, interweaving fibers without a loom. They don’t look particularly fond of each other or happy to be in the picture. What is their story? Are they recent immigrants being taught a skill? Are they women of questionable virtue being given another chance? Are the teachers good-hearted volunteers, or stern taskmasters?
These are the people I attend to, ordinary working class people, maybe people who didn’t expect anything about their lives would be remembered. Textile work is the language we have in common, the lens that helps me connect to and understand their lives. There is so much of their story I don’t know, but I am happy whenever I can save a few fragments and pass on their memory.