Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lowell Women's Week-All Our Voices

Lowell Women's Week, a celebration of the women who have come before us to the women of today, has taken place at the beginning of every March (Women's History Month) since 1996. In 2000, the Public Art Committee and Project were created as a way for the “voices” of Lowell’s girls and women to be given positive public attention and regard while giving girls and women a creative opportunity.

I lived in the Lowell area from 1977 and 1985 and consider Lowell the place where my life as an artist began. While I was living in North Billerica —unemployed and directionless—a chance request from a high school friend reconnected me with my occasional interest in calligraphy and I fell in love. I eventually went on to do lots of commercial calligraphy work in the city and get involved in the art scene such as it was in those days. I was a founding member of Art Alive! The Greater Lowell Art Co-op which had a gallery on Merrimack Street courtesy of the National Park Service.

Anne Mulvey, one of the Public Art Committee members, has been a friend since the old Lowell days. We both now live in Newburyport. We often talked about Lowell Women's Week and this year Anne and Irene Egan of Visiting Nurse Association of Greater Lowell, Inc. (a new friend from my new Lowell days) decided we would design a project together and apply for a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council, which we did receive.

Of course my first choice was to make books. Last year's piece of hanging books at Maudslay Outdoor Sculpture was a great success and I wanted to use that as a model. We began our planning in September with a visit there.

Two things that came up in our early conversation was the fact that the public art exhibit was often located in places out of the mainstream and that it was not able to be viewed at the key event of Lowell Women's Week—the breakfast. I decided that we needed something portable and found a free-standing collapsible clothesline online. We chose the Pollard Memorial Library for its central location and public access as well as its connection with books. Sean Thibodeau, the Community Planning Librarian, was receptive and has been a great help throughout the process.

Here was my initial sketch with my sample books added:

This year's Lowell Women's Week theme was All Our Voices and we chose that for our title as well. Our suggested prompt for the books' content was "I am." We used recycled bags for the books, both brown paper from the grocery store and colored shopping bags from department and clothing stores. We provided materials and training and reached out to groups across the city.

I created a training video and written directions and we had a well-attended "Training the Trainers" session at the library.

While Anne and Irene kindly give me lots of credit for the success of it all, it was their tireless work of outreach to the community that made it happen. Without the books and the "voices," there would have been no project. They sent letters and emails, made phone calls and follow-up phone calls, led workshops themselves, and picked up books. Some of the groups who took part were:

Bridget’s Crossing, Brush Gallery & Artists’ Studios, Christ Church United Sunbeams, Lowell, Family Literacy Center, Girls Incorporated of Greater Lowell, Girl Scout & Brownie Troops of Greater Lowell, Living Waters, Lowell General Hospital Art through Healing, Lowell Women’s Week Planning Committee, Middlesex Community College Multicultural Center, Morey School, RARA (Remarkable, Active, Resilient Adults), Tsongas Industrial History Center, UMass Lowell Department of Psychology, UMass Lowell Office of Disability Services, UMass Lowell Office of Student Activities, UMass Lowell Protestant Campus Ministry, and Visiting Nurse Association of Greater Lowell, Inc.

We gathered here along with Anne's partner Donna to assemble the installation last Saturday. We started by threading crochet cotton through the top of each book. This was used to tie the books to the pieces of ribbon that hung from the clothesline.

One of my lesser skills is estimating how much time things will take. A little math would have helped. Such as: If it takes 4 minutes to tie the string on each book and there are 250 books, how many minutes would that be? Answer (alas calculated now instead of then): 1,000 minutes, which when divided by 60 is 16.6 hours, which when divided by 4 people is a little over 4 hours. In a feeble defense, I will say that we didn't know we would be getting that many books (a pleasant surprise until the sky darkened as we worked) and I was kind of winging it as to the final assembly so I hesitated to expand the group beyond our little well-acquainted band.

After adding threads to all the books at the dining room table, we moved to the studio where the clothesline was set up. It had been modified after my husband and technical helper had looked at it and said, "It's too short." Our friend Ed Eaton fabricated a center piece to extend the height. It also added some needed weight to the assembled structure and made it more sturdy.

We laid the books on my worktable and tied them to ribbons which I then hung from the clothesline with binder clips. At its final assembly at the library, I also stapled the ribbon at the top for added strength.

I did the finishing touches on Sunday morning including the sign at the top and then took it apart for travel. We reassembled it at Lenzi's in Dracut where it was ready and waiting for the breakfasters the following morning. It was wonderful to see so many people viewing the books and actually taking time to read them.

Then it was time to take it apart and transport it to the Pollard Memorial Library. We installed it there in the first floor landing of the grand staircase.

Tuesday evening was the reception. We were thrilled that many of the book makers came, especially the large group of Brownies and Girl Scouts. I had a few moments of panic when several different girls looked up at me with sad eyes and said, "I can't find my book." But all were found and all was well. We chose not to hang the books by group because we wanted to visually vary the sizes, shapes, and colors of the books. I think it also made the viewing process more interesting.

If at any point in the process we became bogged down by details and the work involved, this entry in the guest book is a reminder of why we did it and the power of creativity and expression for all.

View photos of the process and some of the books on flickr.

All Our Voices continues until March 31 at the Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA. After it closes, the books will be bound together and archived in the Center for Lowell History.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


Rachel said...

Thank you for all of your efforts to make this happen and especially thank you for sharing it with us. Yes, I am verklempf. :-)

Anonymous said...

It is 11pm here in Chicago and every night before I go to bed, I always check to see if there is "something wonderful from Susan". I think of you there on the east coast---is it really midnight, and before you go to bed you think of all of us? Tonight's posting of the amazing group installation at Lowell, well, I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Such a wonderful project for the women (of many different ages and places in their lives)to express themselves and come together. I have been "wow'd" by you before, but this is really tops. Thank you so very much for sharing it with all of us.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thanks Rachel for your kind comments and a new word. For anyone else who would have to look it up—
Verklempt is a Yiddish word that means "overcome with emotion."

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Well despite recommendations to avoid screens before bed for better sleeping, I do sometimes check my email before bed. What a treat to get Anonymous' message. I went to sleep with a smile on my face. Thank you.

Cari Ferraro said...

Susan, I am so moved by your project, the culmination of so many years of your work so beautifully shown and participated in by so many. You really have made a difference in your teaching and getting the art into the hands of everyone. It is no wonder we are all so verklemf about it. (!) Beautiful presentation on the blog, really gives a sense of the feel of this event, and may it continue to move all who see it this month! I especially love the domesticity of the standing clothesline for the struture!

Jennifer said...

That is really great! I love how all the books look strung upon the lines. Awesome!

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thanks so much. I really appreciate your kind words. There are always moments in this kind of project where you wonder if it will really come together, so it is especially gratifying to be able to share it one more time on the blog. The clothesline was chosen for practical reasons and the domestic, woman connection is an unplanned extra.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thank you Jennifer. I was so happy that it looked as good as I had envisioned in the planning stage, maybe even better.

Blue Roof Designs said...

What a phenomenal project!

All of those books presented together in that manner is such a powerful image. You should be proud of what you've accomplished!

On a side note, my sister attended one of your workshops. I was so jealous!

Linda Branch Dunn said...

Wonderful project and lovely execution. I work up at Lowell Fiber Studio -if you need extra hands for a future project, I'd love to help. And meanwhile, my best to Irene Egan- what a wonderful woman to know.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thanks Blue Roof Designs. It's always gratifying to see my concept come together but I have learned from other community projects like this that it is the efforts of those who reach out and get people to participate that is the key. The workshop with your sister was a fun morning. She mentioned you. Hope our paths will cross someday.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thanks for the offer. I will keep it in mind for the future. Hope you have a chance to stop by and see it.

Nancy Peters said...

DearSusan, I've been so busy (being retired) that Iam just catching up with you and your projects. Ilovethe tree and I think I will try it with the familyat one of our gatherings. I have been making birthday books for them after learning to make my own paper (primitive style that is) and I think they would enjoy making a book of their own. We won't try the paper-making yet. Thank you so very much for your great ideas and inspiring us. Nancy in Milwaukee

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

If you make a tree at one of your family gatherings, I'd love to see a photo. Glad you find inspiration from the blog.

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