Monday, June 16, 2014

"plain & fancy: american women and their needlework, 1700-1850"

Plain & Fancy cover art.
Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1700-1850 by Susan Burrows Swan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

       This comprehensive survey of American needlework written by Susan Burrows Swan is a very entertaining read for those of you who love to learn about Early American art history. Although some of her writing is weak in the area of understanding how religious history influenced the kinds of topics that women pursued, her overall coverage of the genre is certainly appropriate within the arena of textile methods and women's social history.
       I acquired the book from a library discard shelf and as usual, it was a valuable teaching resource that should never have been classified as "discard material." These kinds of books are needed for research and education of our young people. Ms. Swan writes in a style that teens can read easily and with some degree of patience. Because of this, her work is a valuable treasure for teachers who integrate both literacy and art.
       This being said, however, it is obvious that she writes about religious topics from a disposition of one who does not have any true connection with those who practice religion, an unfortunate circumstance often plaguing those authors who have written about the history of art in our museums for the past fifty years. It is difficult to write about religion from an agnostic or atheistic point of view. It's like writing a book about war without ever having had to live through one, if you know what I mean.
       Art history is a difficult subject to write about if one does not share deeper connections with the artists that go beyond the surface study of an object or museum collection. So much of what inspires religious topics in art comes from deeply rooted belief and this belief should be explored with the same depth of study that one gives to the art object itself. For what is art if it does not reflect life? Where does it's true value come from? Art is not merely object, it is also reflection of human experience.

The needlework collections are from the Winterthur Museum, Delaware.

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