"Strong Voices to be Heard" Embroidered Canvas Photograph, 8"x10", 2016
My piece was created by printing a canvas of an image of my great grandmother, Vera Duff Gilmer's art class at Randolf Macon Women's Preperatory School, where she attended high school and college. The piece was then hand embroidered. I chose to highlight my great grandmother because of her strength as an artist, we have many of her oil paintings hanging around our house, but more importantly, her strength for the right of women and of fair elections. In 1949, Grandmother was already a prominent civic woman, but decided she could create significant change by getting into politics. She was nominated by the Russell County Democrats to run for the Virginia House of Delegates. She was only the 3rd woman to ever be nominated for this position. Because she was a woman, this caused quite a stir among her fellow politicians. Many men were opposed to a woman having this position, and devised a plan to make sure she would not win. To insure this didn't happen, many of the absentee ballots that were sent in by mail were changed before they were counted from Grandmother's name to the opponents. In the end, her opponent won the election, however, it became known that the votes had been changed and my great grandmother took action by filing a lawsuit. It was conformed by the courts that there was significant voter fraud, but not enough to change the election outcome. Despite the loss, my great-grandmother sat through every session of the House of Delegates that year, to make sure that the voice of Southwest Virginia was heard. I believe it takes strong women who are pushing to make things happen for society to grow. When Grandmother was interviewed, she told reporters of the Richmond Times newspaper that,“I think everyone must take an interest in politics before we are going to get the kind of government we want.” I have chosen to use this photograph in several piece of my art, including a quilt also on my website. My great-grandmother Vera’s life was one focused on art, culture, and civic enrichment. Making connections from my family heritage to my own life, my great-grandmother is a reflection of the woman I want to be. While exploring some family photos, I stumbled across an album of photos from my great-grandmother’s high school and college days. I was instantly drawn to several pictures from her art class. One photo, which may have been posed for the yearbook, showed students doing set design, pottery, drawing, and other mediums. Although I always knew my great-grandmother was an artist, I have several of her oil paintings, but actually seeing her in an environment so similar to the one I am currently in brought it home. After editing and printing the photo, I laser printed the photo onto fabric. In a quilting class in college, I used these photos to create a quilt. 6 years later, I recently stumbled upon some extra pieces of printouts of this photo. I’ve always wanted to do something with them. I wanted to play with the idea of the comparing and contrasting the art making experience 100 years apart. I thought the best way to make a contrast between past and contemporary art making was the idea of playing with black and white versus bright colors. Bringing this connection of heritage moving into contemporary art making is an area I am researching for my capstone as well as my own personal art making. Although I wanted bring contemporary ideas to the piece with the bright colored embroidery, I didn’t want it to be overpowering to the rest of the piece. Using only the three primary colors allows a connection to moving back to the basics with my life and my artmaking. For centuries, strong women have been making art. Only in contemporary times are women truly becoming able to publicly voice their opinions and have them taken seriously. I wonder what my local area would be like if my great-grandmother had the respect and voice I am given today 50 years ago. It is so important that I continue her fight of making my area the best it can be, using my voice to be heard for what I believe in, and using art as a means towards it.