Category Archives: In the Studio

Dolores Huerta on Women’s Work

Find Dolores Huerta (1930-    )  Women’s Work standing on the upper level holding a sign that says “HUELGA” (Strike).  She is chosen for her efforts to improve the horrible conditions of farm workers in America, and her work to organize grass roots activism in communities that struggle. Today, in her 90’s, she continues to fight and organize.

Activism in her DNA

Dolores Huerta was born in a small mining town in New Mexico in 1930.  At 3 years old, her parents divorced and she moved to Stockton, California with her mother and two brothers.  Her father, Juan Hernandez, worked as a miner, a farm worker, and was a union activist. Dolores had little contact with her father after she moved to California, but she too, would become a force for worker’s rights.  Dolores credits Alicia, her mother, for teaching her to fight for others.  Involved in community and church organizations, Alicia was known to be kind, and fair to all in her business and community interactions.

Early Activism

As a teenager, Dolores was active in many school clubs and groups, and she was a girl scout through high school. After graduation, she earned a provisional teaching license from the local community college and began teaching elementary school in Stockton.  In the classroom, her heart broke for the poor children of farm workers who came to school barefoot and with empty stomachs.  At the time, field hands worked from sun up to sundown without a break, access to cool water, or toilets.  For this, most earned a wage of only 70 cents hour.

Inspired to address the economic injustices of the agricultural industry, Dolores became an activist organizer.  She joined the local Community Service Organization (CSO) and started the Agricultural Workers Association.  She helped to organize voter registration drives, and campaigned for local legislation to improve the lives of local farm workers.  It was in the CSO in 1955 that Dolores met César Chávez, and discovered a shared interest in improving conditions of farm workers.  Together, they quit the CSO, and founded the United Farm Workers’ Union (UFW) in 1962.  By the end of 1963, Dolores’ had successfully lobbied the State of California to obtain disability insurance and aid for families of farm work.  This was a first law of its kind in the US. 

Power Through Action

From the beginning, Dolores knew that the farm workers did not have the money to fight for

UFW poster to promote boycott of grapes

Boycott Poster

laws to protect them.  She realized that they had power through action, so she organized boycotts, voter registration, and grass roots campaign events.  Inspired by Gandhi’s Salt Boycott in the 1930, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950’s, the UFW organized the Delano Grape Strike.  It lasted from 1965-1970.  During this time, Latino and Filipino farm workers joined forces.  They refused to harvest grapes in protest of unbearable working conditions. Strikers walked 300 miles to protest at the state capital.  Other unions, churches, and civil rights groups gave them their support. Eventually, more than 17 million people boycotted grapes and wine from California.

Non-Violent in the Face of Violence

The UFW organized the strike with a strong emphasis on non-violence, knowing that support would disappear if the workers were seen as aggressors.  Grape growers had money and political power on their side.  They had local police and goons hired by the Teamsters Union attack workers on the picket lines.  The police attacked Dolores and they broke three of her ribs and ruptured her spleen.  She spent months recovering.

The strike was long and difficult for workers.  Frustrated, many advocated for violence to achieve their goals, but César and Dolores were determined that the movement remain non-violent. In the end, the table grape growers signed a contract that guaranteed better pay, benefits, and protections for farm workers.  Dolores continued the work and helped pass the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This law allowed farm workers to unionize and bargain for better wages and working conditions; another first in the US.

Si Se Pueda!

The UFW organized similar strikes in other farming areas.  In 1972, the Arizona legislature passed a law to prevent farm workers from organizing and

poster shows women farm workers wearing hats and bandanas over nose and mouth to protect from sun and chemicals. Image of Dolores Huerta holding sign to strike superimposed in background. Border reads, "Women's Work is Never Done"

Broccoli Harvest Strike Poster

striking, as they had done in California.  Dolores and César went to Arizona to help fight this statute.  Over and over, their challenge to locals to unite and fight was answered with “no se puede,” –No, it can’t be done.  Finally, Dolores responded, “Si, si se puede!” (“Yes, yes, it can be done”), and this became the rallying cry for workers in Arizona.  Later, Barack Obama used this phrase in his campaign for president.  At first, he gave credit for the slogan to César Chávez, but later he apologized, and corrected this mistake in the ceremony where he presented Dolores with the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Feminist Inspiration

Dolores was constant, and outspoken in her fight for worker’s rights.  She stood toe-to-toe with men, refusing to back down.  Even though it was not her goal, she became an inspiration to  women across the nation who were also fighting discrimination.  During the grape boycott, Dolores met Gloria Steinem, and she found another kindred spirit.  Moving forward, Dolores broadened her focus to address equal rights for women, along with worker’s rights.

The Work Never Ends

Dolores actively campaigned for people she believed would help her causes. A supporter of Robert Kennedy,  when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles, she was only steps away.   She fought against the use of pesticides that were poisoning farm workers.  Most recently, she fought the Trump administration roll back of pesticide restrictions.  

At age 90, Delores continues the work she started in her 20’s.  Today her work is carried out through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and non-profit with a mission to inspire and organize communities to build volunteer organizations empowered to pursue social justice. 

Dolores seeks to plant seeds of activism in poor and working class communities by personally meeting with families in their homes to talk about the importance of voting and civic involvement.  She believes that this approach, while labor intensive, will change the path of families for generations to come.

(add photo of migrant protester in DC)

A 2017 film titled Dolores: Rebel, Activist, Feminist, Mother, tells the story of her life and work.

My Take Away…

Discuss coming out from the shadows of men

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

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Shirley Chisolm fabric portrait from Women's Work quilt, front view, wearing lime green dress.

Shirley Chisholm on Women’s Work

Shirley Chisolm fabric portrait from Women's Work quilt, front view, wearing lime green dress, walking down stairs among protestors and legislators

Shirley Chisholm on Women’s Work

Shirley Chisholm(1924-2005) on WOMEN’S WORK, is located at the bottom of the stairs,  wearing a lime green dress.  She is situated between legislators and demonstrators marching forward down the stairs.  Shirley, known as a courageous, and tireless champion for the poor and working class, is famous as the first black woman to serve in Congress.  She was also the first black female presidential candidate from a majority political party. 

Fierce Advocate

Born Shirley Anita St Hill on November  30, 1924 to  Caribbean Immigrants from British Guyana and Barbados, her father was a factory laborer, and her mother was a domestic worker and seamstress.  The family lived in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Believing it would provide a safer environment, Shirley’s parents sent her and three younger sisters to live with their grandmother on the island of Barbados. The girls lived there for about 7 years.  Shirley attributes much of her success to the early education she received in the traditional British school system of Barbados.  Upon her return to New York City at the age of 10, she performed well in the integrated, but mostly white classrooms.  

After high school, Shirley earned a Bachelor of Arts at Brooklyn College where she also won awards for debate.  Then, she worked in an early child care center, married Conrad Chisholm, and earned her Masters in Elementary Education from Columbia University. She worked her way up to director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in the 1950’s, and became an educational consultant to New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. 

Shirley learned to fight for social justice in her teens from her father who was an active member of a labor trade union.  Her confidence, speaking skills, and grit made her an effective advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, and workers rights.  She was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1965, and became the first black woman elected to the US House of Representatives in 1968.  She served her constituents as a fierce, and vocal legislator. 

Unbossed & Unbought

Shirley’s campaign slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” was an apt description.  At first, Shirley

was appointed to the Agriculture Committee.  This was the result of efforts by Southern

congressmen to put her in a place where she would have little influence or power.  Angered, she waged a campaign to be reassigned.  This was unheard-of since freshmen representatives were expected to follow the rules without complaint.  In the end, Shirley got her way, but not before she found a silver lining in agriculture.  In the late 1960’s farmers in the midwest had surplus food that they couldn’t sell.  Shirley teamed with Senator Bob Dole from Kansas and, together, they started what would become the Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide food supplements to at-risk women and their infants.

Long desk with 3 black male legislators and Shirley Chisholm sitting behind

Congressional Black Caucus.

During her seven terms in Congress, Shirley successfully helped pass numerous pieces of legislation that gave voice and power to those who were ignored by the government.  She opposed the VietNam War and fought to reduce military spending in favor of increasing funds for domestic social programs. She pushed through legislation that expanded funding for day care and education, and expanded minimum wage protections for domestic workers. In support of women, Shirley hired only females to work in her congressional office, and half of her staff were black.

Presidential Run

Finally, in 1972, Shirley decided to run for President as the Democratic candidate. She became

campaign poster with words Vote for Chisholm, Unbossed and Unbought. Shows image of Shirley Chisholm speaking

Campaign Poster

the first black candidate from a major party, and the first woman Democratic party candidate.  A major obstacle for her campaign, were the black male colleagues within the party.  Shirley claimed that she faced more discrimination for being a woman, than for being black. Winning the nomination was a long shot, but, Shirley hoped to amass enough support to be able to influence the party platform. She planned to demand a black vice-presidential candidate, and insist on diversity in cabinet, and agency appointments.

Shirley invited all to “Join me on the Chisholm Trail” as she campaigned across the country on a shoe-string budget, and heavy reliance on volunteers. Her policy positions included support for:

  • Anti-poverty legislation

    Shirley Chisholm behind lecture, speaking at convention

    Shirley speak at Democratic Nat’l Convention

  • Ending the VietNam war
  • Abortion rights
  • Gay rights
  • National health insurance
  • Legalization of marijuana
  • Fair housing laws
  • Busing as a temporary means to desegregate schools

Shirley built a broad coalition of supporters, but, she did not win the nomination. She did, however, come in 4th in a field of 15 candidates at the Democratic Convention.  She inspired women worldwide, and was voted as one of the 10 most admired women in the world.  After the election, Shirley returned to Congress where she served another 10 years.  In retirement, she remained involved in many political organizations, spoke at colleges to encourage student activism, and continued to fight for women’s rights.  

What about those demands at the convention…

In her run for president, Shirley hoped to gain the clout to demand a black vice presidential running mate, and diversity in cabinet and agency appointments.  That was in 1972.  Not until the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in 2020, nearly 50 years later, did those demands became a reality.  At the inauguration ceremony, Harris wore purple as a tribute to Shirley Chisholm whose campaign colors were purple and yellow.

My take away…

The pace of equality is much too slow.  In researching Shirley Chisholm, I must confront the question, “What are you doing about it?”.

As a high school teacher, I work with many students from marginalized groups: young women and children of immigrants.  They often do not have a family history of education or activism, so, I try to plant those seeds.  I challenge students to be the first in their families to graduate from high school, to set a goal of attending college, and to register to vote. These steps can change the path of an entire family for years to come.

girl standing, inserting ballot into collection box outside in snow storm

1st Time Voting

In the 2020 election, a former student contacted me because she wanted to vote.  She didn’t know how, and no one she knew had ever voted in a US election.  Over the phone, I talked her through the registration process.  When her ballot arrived, I explained each of the issues, and shared a booklet from the state voting commission with more information.  After talking her through marking and sealing her ballot, I drove her to the drop-off site and told her, “Next time, bring two friends and we’ll do this again.”

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

Learn More About Shirley Chisholm…

Michals, Debra.  “Shirley Chisholm.”  National Women’s History Museum.  2015.  www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/shirley-chisholm. 

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, ““Catalyst for Change”: The 1972 Presidential Campaign of Representative Shirley Chisholm,” https://history.house.gov/Blog/2020/September/9-14-Chisholm-1972/(January 30, 2021)

Shirley Chisholm: First African American Congresswoman (March 31, 2020).  Timeline-World History Documentaries.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz-dfJIprkY

Shirley Chisholm Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography, (January 30, 2021). https://www.notablebiographies.com/Ch-Co/Chisholm-Shirley.html

Dovid Zaklikowsk (January 20, 2021)  Turning Disappointment Into Food for the Hungry. The Rebbe.org. https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/558041/jewish/Turning-Disappointment-Into-Food-for-the-Hungry.htm

History.com Editors (December 10, 2020). Shirley Chisholm. A&E Television Networks.  https://www.history.com/topics/us-politics/shirley-chisholm

 

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Ida B Wells portrait in fabric on the quilt Women's Work. Ida is wearing orange dress typical of 1940's. Her hair is in a know on top of her head. She is arm in arm with Gloria Steinem

Ida B. Wells on Women’s Work

Ida B. Wells (1862–1931appears on Women’s Work on the main level of the quilt, walking arm in arm with Gloria Steinem.  She is included because of her contributions as a journalist, and is notable for her investigative reporting on lynching in America.

Ida was born to slave patents in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862.  However, at the age of 6 months, she and her family were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.  Following the civil war, her parents were active in Reconstruction.  Her father joined the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped star

head and shoulders sketch of Ida B Wells, circa 1940.

Journalist, Ida B Wells. Circa 1940.

t Shaw University.  This school for newly freed slaves is where Ida received her early schooling.

At age of 16, Ida lost both parents and an infant brother in a Yellow Fever outbreak.  As the oldest, she had to care for younger brothers and sisters. So, she convinced a local school administrator that she was 18 and was hired as a teacher. Over the next few years, Ida arranged for her brothers to work as carpenter apprentices, and moved her sisters to live with an aunt in Memphis, Tennessee.  Ida returned to college and honed her journalistic skills at Fisk University and continued to work as a teacher.

Injustice in the South

In 1884, Ida bought a first class train ticket in Memphis. She boarded the train, but was denied a seat in first class.  The conductor told to sit in the car reserved for blacks.  Ida refused and an argument ensued.  The conductor and fellow passengers forcibly removed her from the train.  Ida sued the train company and won a $500 settlement in a circuit court.  On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the ruling, and charged Ida for court fees.  Outraged, she channeled her energy into several editorial articles published in black newspapers.  Using the pseudonym “Iona,” she criticized Jim Crow laws and treatment of blacks in the south.  Eventually, Ida owned and published her own newspaper, Free Speech, in Memphis.

In 1892, three balck men opened a grocery store in Memphis.  Their success drew customers from the white owned store across the street. One night, a group of white men gathered to vandalize the store.  In defending the shop, several white men were shot and injured.  Officials arrested the black store owners.  Later that evening, a white mob took them from their cells and hung them.

Investigation of Lynching

Outraged by the death of her friends, Ida carried out her own investigation of

Cover of book The Red Record by Ida B Wells, showing image of a lynching party.

The Red Record, documents lynching in America

lynching in the South. First, she published her findings in a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors. Later, she traveled to give lectures and wrote a book, A Red Record, detailing the treatment of blacks in the south.   She documented the practice of lynching black men who challenged the authority of whites, or dared to be successful in politics, or business. Using her words, she effectively painted a picture of conditions for blacks in the South.  In a speech she delivered in Boston on February 13, 1893, Ida reported, 

…since invested with citizenship, the race has been indicted for ignorance, immorality and general worthlessness declared guilty and executed by its self constituted judges. The operations of law do not dispose of negroes fast enough, and lynching bees have become the favorite pastime of the South.

The brutal honesty of her reporting angered whites who descended on her newspaper office, destroyed the presses,   The mob proved her words correct when they threatened to kill her if she returned to Memphis.  Ida escaped to England where she continued her anit-lynching campaign, and brought international attention to racial injustice in America.

In 1895, Ida returned to the US, settled in Chicago, and married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and newspaper editor. Together, they raised 4 children and continued to fight social injustice on many fronts. Ida was active in several social justice issues, including women’s suffrage, and equal education for blacks.  She was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Ida continued to write and lecture in the US, and abroad, until her death in 1931.

The False Characterization

Ida’s investigative reporting  uncovered a common justification for lynching. Whites  justified the murder of black men with the assertion that those men would sexually assault white women. Essentially, whites believed that lynching was necessary to protect the virtue of their wives and daughters. 

It is important to note here, that multiple sources, over many decades, consistently show that sexual violence data, disaggregated by race, shows that perpetrators are most likely to be white. In fact, sexual violence by whites occurs at a level of more than double that of blacks. For current statistics visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website: RAINN.org.

My personal take away…

The research for Ida B Wells on Women’s Work led me to a startling realization.  The false notion that black men are inherently “dangerous” exists in my own consciousness. Growing up in a white suburb of Kansas City, I had very few interactions with blacks, so how did I learn this? Upon reflection, I realized that the lessons were part of my growing up. For example, when my family drove into the city, through predominantly black sections of town, my parents instructed us to lock our doors. Now, in my 50’s, I’m adamant that I’m not racist.  However, driving through Denver, the thought that I should lock my car door sometimes pops into my mind.  Those irrational ideas still echo in my head.  Because I’m aware, I will stop it, and I’ll speak up when others perpetuate that idea.

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will  debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

Learn more about Ida B. Wells…

Biography.com Editors (2020, June 24). Ida B. Wells Biography. A&E Television Networks and the Biography.com website. https://www.biography.com/activist/ida-b-wells

Norwood, Arlisha (2017). Ida B. Wells-Barnett. National Women’s History Museum.  www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ida-wells-barnett.

Steptoe, T. (2007, January 19) Ida Wells-Barnett (1862-1931). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/barnett-ida-wells-1862-1931/ 

Editors of BlackPast.org (2007, January 29). Ida B. Wells, “Lynch Law In All Its Phases” transcript of speech delivered at Boston’s Tremont Temple on February 13, 1893,as published in Our Day magazine, May 1893.  BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/uncategorized/1893-ida-b-wells-lynch-law-all-its-phases/ 

Ida B Wells, The Red Record Lynching in the United States. Available free through pdfbooksworld.com. https://www.pdfbooksworld.com/The-Red-Record-by-Ida-B-Wells-Barnett

Wells-Barnett, Ida B., “Southern horrors : lynch law in all its phases,” Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/item/3f4d5d3a67f8ce16f1b00b3cb01dc143

Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. , None. [Between 1940 and 1960?] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2009633545/.

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Margaret Sanger on Women’s Work

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Margaret Sanger in blue suit standing next to Melinda Gates in a red pant suit. They discuss the birth control and reproductive rights for women.

Margaret Sanger on Women’s Work

The image of Margaret Sanger on Women’s Work is located on the main level to the right of center.  She is depicted talking with Melinda Gates. They are  discussing the state of women’s reproductive rights. Margaret shares her first person account of the struggle in America, while Melinda updates her on taking that campaign to the world.

The Trauma of Motherhood

Margaret Higgins Sanger was born, September 14, 1879 in Corning, NY.  Her mother, before dying at age 40, became pregnant 18 times.  She gave birth to 11 children (Margaret was #6), and had 7 miscarriages.  Although the cause of her mother’s death was tuberculosis, Margaret believed that the hardship of multiple pregnancies was a big factor in her mother’s poor health, and early death.

Margaret attended Claverack College, and completed nurses training at White Plains Hospital in New York.  From there, she worked as an obstetrical nurse on the lower east side of New York City.  While working with poor women, she saw the devastating impact of unwanted pregnancies and botched abortions.  She began a campaign to legalize contraception.  It was Margaret who coined the phrase “birth control”.

Talking About Birth Control is Illegal

Margaret Sanger outside of court house: Probably taken outside Sanger's Brownsville clinic trial at the King's County Court of Special Sessions, Jan. 30, 1917

Margaret waits outside court house.

Six years prior to Margaret’s birth, the Comstock Act of 1873 was passed making it illegal to publish and disseminate literature deemed obscene.  Along with pornography, materials related to sex education, contraception, abortion were also considered illicit.   Mailing such materials, or transporting them across state lines, was also a federal offense.  Many states passed similar, and more restrictive laws.  For example, in Massachusetts, any person simply discussing information about birth control was subject to fines and imprisonment.  In Connecticut, the use of contraception, even by consenting married couples, could result in imprisonment for up to a year.

In 1914, Margaret began publishing The Woman Rebel, a magazine meant to inform women, and inspire them to rebel against unjust laws.  The publication covered a wide range of topics, including the right to vote, workplace issues, marriage and child rearing, along with reproductive rights and birth control.  She managed to publish 8 issues before she was brought up on charges. Facing the possibility of 20 years in jail, Margaret escaped to England.  There, she continued to write pamphlets about sex education and had them shipped back to America where her supporters distributed them. A year later, Margaret returned to the US  to face trial.   Because of a massive amount of sympathetic publicity generated by her outraged supporters officials decided to drop all charges.  

Clinic Shut Down by Police

Photo shows birth control activist Margaret Sanger with female patient inside Brownsville clinic, probably taken Oct. 1916. The clinic was closed nine days after its opening as Margaret Sanger was jailed for violating the Comstock obscenity laws.

Margaret sees patient at the Women’s Clinic in Brooklyn, 1916.

Following the trial, supporters urged Margaret to resume publication of the magazine, but she had bigger plans.  In 1916, she opened the nation’s first women’s clinic offering birth control in Brooklyn, NY.  Quickly, Police charged her with being a public nuisance and she was sentenced to 30 days in the Queens penitentiary.  The clinic was closed within a week. However, in that short time, over 400 women were served.  One positive result, a court ruled that birth control could be prescribed by doctors for medical reasons.

Undaunted, Margaret went on to found a research institute, scientific journal, an advocacy organization to promote the development of birth control, and recognition of women’s reproductive rights. In 1942, these became the parent organizations of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Next, Margaret took her campaign abroad to found the International

Lines of women with baby carriages waiting in line outside of Margaret Sanger's clinic waiting to be seen.

Outside the women’s clinic,

Planned parenthood Federation in 1953.  Margaret’s tireless efforts eventually led to the development and FDA approval of the birth control pill in 1960.  This gave women unprecedented control of their own bodies, but, full repeal of the Comstock Act by the Supreme Court of the US did not occur until 1965.

What About Eugenics?

Eugenics was a social philosophy that became popular during the 20th century.  Developed by British scientist Francis Galton, it was an extension of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  It proposed improving the human race by keeping people with negative traits from reproducing. At that time, groups, such as the Nazis, used this philosophy to justify the mistreatment of certain religious and minority groups, and the disabled.

Over the course of her campaign, Margaret Sanger made comments that implied support of eugenics.  Opponents of Planned Parenthood asserted that her efforts to promote birth control  focused on poor and minority populations, and were, at their core, racist.  

But, ardent supporters of Margaret Sanger point out that use of eugenics phrases was common in the mid 1900’s.   They accuse Planned Parenthood opponents of taking selected quotes out of context to undermine the organization.  

My Personal Take Away…

Read several of Margaret’s writing.  Clearly she focused on the betterment of women’s lives, not the manipulation of the racial and religious makeup of society. I think that, in hindsight, she could have chosen her words more carefully, spoken with greater eloquence.  

Her position is best summarized in this quote from the June 25, 1914 edition of The Rebel Woman:

“Our fight is for the personal liberty of the women who work. A woman’s body belongs to herself alone. It is her body. It does not belong to the Church. It does not belong to the United States of America or to any other Government on the face of the earth. The first step toward getting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for any woman is her decision whether or not she shall become a mother. Enforced motherhood is the most complete denial of a woman’s right to life and liberty.”

Many times, I have expressed my ideas and bungled my words. Too often, my enthusiasm for a subject may have interfered with the internal filters that would have edited my comments before I spoke them aloud.  So, I shudder to think how selective quotes from my past could present a false view of who I really am. Margaret Sanger on Women’s Work also serves as a reminder to me to take a broader view of others before passing judgment.  

See the Women’s Work Quilt

Women’s Work will debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website.

Read More about Margaret Sanger

The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2020, September 10). Margaret Sanger. Encyclopædia Britannica. URL: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Sanger

Michals, Debra, PhD. (2017). Margaret Sanger. National Women’s History Museum.  URL: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/margaret-sanger

Sanger, Margaret (1921 October) The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda. (Originally published in the Birth Control Review). The Public Papers of Margaret Sanger: Web Edition. URL: https://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/webedition/app/documents/show.php?sangerDoc=238946.xml

Latson, Jennifer (2016, October 14, 12:00 PM EDT). What Margaret Sanger Really Said About Eugenics and Race, Time Magazine Archives. URL: https://time.com/4081760/margaret-sanger-history-eugenics

Steinem, Gloria (1998, April 13). Margaret Sanger: Her Crusade to Legalize Birth Control Spurred the Movement for Women’s Liberation, Time Magazine. URL:  http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,988152,00.html

 

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Women's Work by moonlight

Women’s Work: When Will It End?!?

Women’s Work, a masterwork that has consumed, and fed, my artistic spirit for the last year and half, may finally be coming to an end.  This journey started in September 2019, when I was approached by a representative from the Clinton Foundation about creating an art quilt for Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights.  This is an exhibit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in the US.  Originally scheduled to open at the Clinton Presidential Library in September 2020, COVID-19 delayed the opening 1 year.  Not to diminish the devastating effects of this virus, but isolating at home gave me the opportunity to create the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted.

What do you want to do?

This question stopped me in my tracks.  Initially, I couldn’t decide on a single person or event to celebrate in my work; there are just too many options.  The more I researched, the more difficult the decision became. Finally, inspired by Raphael’s painting, School of Athens, I realized that I could create a piece celebrating the work of dozens of women whose voices and deeds have contributed to the fight for women’s votes, rights, and equality.

Inspiration for Women's Work

Raphael’s painting titled School of Athens.

My vision:

In my mind, I saw a gathering of women representing a variety of time periods and vocations, and gifts. I would group them by theme to demonstrate how women’s work has progressed through the centuries, with each generation building on the progress of the previous.

Now, this was a bold, big idea, and big ideas need big space, so I decided to make the piece 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall.  The unintended consequences of this decision are fodder for a  future blog post titled “Bloopers and Blunders”.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Having a vision for Women’s Work, and knowing how to bring that vision to fruition are two very different things.  My progress stalled as I just couldn’t decide what to do next. The project was enormous; something like eating an elephant.

One Bite at a Time.

Women's work: Lea drawing a life-size pattern of the quilt

Drawing the pattern

Finally, in November 2019, this vision took off in 2 directions. First, create an appropriate setting

for the composition. Second, choose the women to be represented in the quilt.  The project started to disaggregate into bite size pieces, and I found a way forward.  Hungry for progress, I began to devour the tasks.

On physically active days, I drew a life-sized pattern and built structures from fabric.  I discovered that organza made a great glass ceiling, as pillars morphed into caryatids. All the while, insufficient amounts of fabric prompted creative design decisions.

Women's Work: progress photo shows entry, steps, floor, wing walls, glass ceiling, pediment carving and distant sky

Distant sky is creative solution when there is not enough fabric.

Women's Work: shows first 2 phases of creating building setting of the pictorial quilt.

Glass ceiling and marble floor.

 

 

 

 

 

Women's Work in progress: working out statuary.

Working out statuary with paper versions.

On mentally active days, I researched women and their achievements. Going “old school”, I

Lea doing research for Women's Work

Lea, conducting research for Women’s Work

wrote information about each woman on a 3×5 notecards.  Over and over, I laid them out, rearranged,, stacked, and paper clipped them.

Now, with Women’s Work is nearly complete, I’m impatient to share what I have done. Please, subscribe to this blog to get the full story. (A pop up window will appear when you leave this page.)  In the months to come, I’ll share essays about the women who are depicted in the work, (there are more than 50) and tell you more stories about how the quilt was made. Later, when the conditions are right, I invite you will join me to see the quilt in person.

Women's Work by moonlight

Solo exhibit in the time of COVID

 

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Color Temperature

Fabric Fever: When Color Temperature is Cause for Concern

In these winter days, especially now, having a fever is cause for concern. Staying home and

Does you fabric have a temperature?

away from others gives me more time with my fabric, where temperature has also been on my mind.  Last year, I started teaching a monthly Zoom class on Color & Composition through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum and our color focus last month was about temperature.  Here is a bit of what we discussed…

What is Warm? What is Cool?

The exact dividing line between warm & cool colors has been an open topic for centuries.

various versions of color temperature

What is your preference?

Your preference likely depends on your medium: a digital graphic artist lives in a different color world than a fiber art quilter.  Here is what I work with…

my take on color temperature

Here are my play groups for warm and cool colors.

I also think of red and green as temperature neutral.  They can function with either play group, but will be the coolest kids in the warm group, and the hottest kids in the cool group.

color temperature - warm

What’s cool in the warm group?

color temperature - cool

What is warm in this cool group?

How is Temperature a Tool?

It’s a fact that warm colors advance and cool colors recede!  In a composition, we can create a sense of depth using temperature.  Warm colors will seem closer to us and cool colors will fall to the background.  Or do they?  Do we know this because someone told us, or because we have experienced it?  I say, “You don’t really own that knowledge until you test it out.”  

So, I created a series of simple compositions of a box on a background.  These are only  8 x10 inches, easy to make, and keep on hand for future reference.

Warm vs Cool – Round 1

First, here is a box in a warm color sitting on a cool color background. 

Does the box visually pop off the surface?

Now, here is the reverse: a cool color box on a warm color background.

What about this box?

If the concept holds true, the first version should appear to have more depth, and the background should fight for dominance in the second.  What do you think?

Warm vs Cool – Round 2

In my next experiment, I pitted warm and cool colors against each other in the same composition.  Using a temperature neutral color green for the back ground, I put a large and small box together in the composition.  Size will indicate to the viewer that the larger box is closer, but, how does color temperature amplify, or mute that message?  

 

Warm vs Cool in Pictorial Quilts

These examples are very dramatic, but the concept can be used in more subtle ways.  Color temperature is relative.  Even within the “Warm” or “Cool” color play groups, each color will appear warmer, or cooler depending on what color plays next to it.  For example, orange is cooler than yellow, but warmer than red.  Also, blue is cooler than green, but warmer than violet. 

I use this concept in all of my work.  Look through my genre and portrait galleries to see how warm tones advance from the cooler backgrounds.  When more than one person is included in a composition, I employ subtle temperature changes in flesh tones to make one figure more prominent, or appear closer than another. 

Which figure has the warmer complexion?

How does temperature amplify depth in this piece?

Experience is the best teacher

Now, if you really want to own knowledge of this concept, you need to conduct your own experiences.  It can be a simple as cutting out some circles of various sizes and colors, and then experiment with placing those circles on different backgrounds.  You don’t even need to fix them permanently.  Try one version, take a photo, rearrange, and take another photo.

If you try this, share a photo of your experiment with me:  Lea@leamccomas.com

Learn More About Color Concepts

Every month, I teach an online Color & Composition class through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.  We meet via Zoom on the 4th Saturday of every month from 1:00-3:00 (Mountain Time zone).  Each meeting is a chance to explore a color concept, a color scheme, and a composition concept.  Come every month, or participate when you can.  The cost is $20/ session. Click this link to join us.

Here is what we’ll be exploring at our next meeting on January 23:

Color Concept: Creating Depth

Color Scheme: Analogous

Composition Concept: Variety & Unity

Sign up for the next Color & Composition class with Lea McComas

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Quilt Stories: The Making of Crossing Over

In a Quilt Stories interview with Lisa Walton, I spoke extensively with her about the making of  my quilt Crossing Over.  It was great fun to talk with a friend, and sister quilter from Australia.
 
QUILT STORIES - See how LEA McCOMAS creates her THREAD PAINTED AWARD WINNING masterpieces
 
 
Here is a link to the interview 
 
Lisa is creating a series of these interviews with quilters from around the world. Subscribe to her channel because there is more to come
 
You can see this piece and more of my work in my Portfolio galleries.
 
I’ve not been posting much in recent months as I’m working on a major new artwork that is bigger and more ambitious than anything I’ve ever done before.  It is a commission for an exhibit being put together by the Clinton Foundation to celebrate Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, and Women’s Rights.  I can’t wait until I can begin to share this journey with you.
 
Take care and be safe–wear a mask when you go out.
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New Work: Dogs & Cats

My last blog entry was last summer when I gave a teaser about my new work, and now, we’re fully in the winter holiday season. Has it really been that long?  The winter solstice, at our house, is a time to stop and reflect on the events & accomplishments of the closing year, and set goals and expectations for the approaching year.

Body Building

I set a goal last year to lose some weight and get in shape (sound familiar?). My body building efforts were really about  building up a body of new work.

Got Kibble? at CF Gallery opening,

Got Kibble? is just one of the new works that I completed this year.  It was a hands-down favorite at my show in the Creative Framing Gallery in Louisville, CO in Sep-Oct.  Pet compositions are fun to show in the Boulder area is because we are such an animal oriented community.

 

 

Cat Nap, 44″ x 24″, fabric & thread, © Lea McComas, 2018.

Not to be left out, that other favorite pet, the cat, is featured in my new piece, “Cat Nap”.  This work was inspired by a photo I took while traveling in Greece, back in the mid-1990’s.

Pet Portrait class sample

Previously, I completed a couple of small studies using this image.  Two versions were made for my online Pet Portrait class. Here is one with a tetrad color scheme. Prior to that,  a small work was donated to a charity event. Finally, after 20 years, the full up composition has come to fruition. Now, it’s subtle charm makes it one of my new favorites.

Cats VS Dogs?

At the show, a survey of viewers revealed that cats are more popular pets than dogs. Now, I’m getting a lot of pressure (and fun photos) for a series featuring cats.  What about you? Are you a dog person? or a cat person?

I’m thinking dogs rule.

    Cats rule, Dogs drool!

Stay tuned, there is more work to share in a future blog. In the meantime, if you’ve been inspired to attempt your own pet portrait in fabric, check out my online Pet Portrait Memory class with The Quilting Company.

No time for that?!?  I do commission work.  Contact me and let’s talk about capturing a favorite image of your pet in fabric and thread.

Border Wall Quilt Project

Can’t write a blog without mentioning the Border Wall Quilt Project.  We’re still accepting bricks and the wall continues to grow.  

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Time for a New Pet Portrait: Got Kibble?

Upcoming Exhibition

Yes, I’ve actually found time to create new original artwork this summer.  The last several

Lea at the Creative Framing Art Gallery

I’ll be in good company

months have been packed with travel, teaching, and the Border Wall Quilt Project, but I’ve still carved out some time to focus on several new works of art, including a new pet portrait.  I’ll be a featured artist at the Creative Framing Art Gallery in Louisville, CO in the months of September-October, and these new pieces will be fully revealed at that time. If your in the area, please save the date: Sep. 7, 2018 for the opening reception, 6-9 PM.  

New Pet Portrait in the Dog’s Life Series

For now, let me share a sneak preview of what’s to come. . . .

Background detail of Got Kibble?

Some of my hand dyed fabric in the background

Face detail of Got Kibble?

Detail of dog

I often find inspiration from my students as I travel and teach.  In Ft. Collins, CO a student shared a photo of her, “Crazy dog!”  I had to agree, he looked pretty crazy, but also endearing.  With her permission, I’ve done a new, larger than life, pet portrait.

I find that animal portraits don’t demand the same level of precision as portraits of people. This is just one more way that animals are more forgiving than humans.  In this piece, the fabric does a lot of the work.  The edges are raw and fuzzy and add a bit of dimension.  I’ve done less thread-painting to keep those edges visible. It’s more like thread-sketching, and it’s great fun when you have to balance a new work with another new project that has a steep learning curve and lots of moving parts.

Plan to come and see this piece in person.  Come to the reception and see me in person, too.

Border Wall Quilt Project: Section 3 Under Construction

OH, and that other new project is the Border Wall Quilt Project.  Follow the link or follow me on Facebook and Instagram to see photos of the individual bricks and the process.  There is still time to register and submit your own bricks.  

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Vigil is Finished. See This Endearing New Work

It is exciting when a new work is completed. Vigil is finished and I’m thrilled with the results. It’s been photographed and added to the Genre gallery on my website. However, in this week’s blog, I want to share some of the details.

The lonely dog, a faithful companion, lies, waiting, and ever hopeful of the return of a loved one.

Vigil: Stitching the Dog

One challenge I faced in stitching the dog was to get the direction of the hair just right.  Stella, the dog in this composition, is similar to my own dog, Bosco.  So, anytime I was uncertain about the direction I should be stitching, I would sneak up on Bosco as he napped and use him as my reference.  Of course, he would wake up and expect to be held and petted in return for his services.

Lea McComas Fiber Art - Vigil detail

Detail of dog hair

Lea McComas Fiber Art - In the Studio

When you ask Bosco for help on a project, he is all in.

 

Vigil: Creating Depth

Lea McComas Fiber Art-Vigil

subtle value changes create feeling of depth

Another challenge was to give a sense of foreground and background.  For this, I rely, as I often do, on value changes. It is very subtle, but the black fabric used at the lower edge is slightly lighter than the dark fabric used for the upper part of the composition.  This subtle contrast was  enhanced with the thread choices in the stitching phase.  As a viewer, you may never consciously notice the changes, but the image will register in your mind as having depth.  Also, creating a broader field of gray below the white band brings that area forward.

 

Vigil: Stitching the Background

Lea McComas Fiber Art-Vigil detail

Subtle changes in thread and stitch design hint at what’s behind.

A final challenge was to add variation and subtle detail to the very large dark background area. I wanted to give the impression of a floor with a wall in the distance, but didn’t want to get too specific on where one transitioned to the other, and also wanted to maintain the feeling of a dark abyss.  For this, I employed a circular stitch design for the carpet, and an elongated vertical stitch pattern to represent the wall and then varied where I transitioned from one pattern to the other.  I also used two threads in this area: a solid black in the area around the dog, and a variegated thread of very dark values as I stitched further away from the figure.

In the end, I think this resulted in a very sweet piece that will be hard to part with. However, plans are already being made to exhibit this piece. When things finalize, I’ll let you know.  For now, visit the Genre Gallery of my website to see some of my other works.  You may notice another new work, Cruisin’.  I’ll be sharing the story of this piece in the weeks to come.

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