Virtual Tour

Ghost Prints Signage; Art Prints by Elaine Luther

Ghost Prints Signage; Art Prints by Elaine Luther.

Here’s your virtual tour of my solo show, “Ghost Prints and Shadow Work,” currently up at the Compassion Factory Gallery and Studio in Brookfield, Illinois.  As you enter the gallery, this wall on your left indicates the start of the show.  While I almost worked with a sign shop to make a show for this title wall, at the last minute, I decided to print it myself, in pieces.

The show statement is on a ledger size piece of paper below the prints on hankies and napkins.  I put the show statement at the end of this post.

Exhibition Design by Betsy Zacsek.

Just as you enter to the right, we have a hands-on activity for kids set up, where kids can do rubbings with various texture plates, both homemade and purchased.  I noticed this did a great job of helping kids get acclimated to the gallery space and feel comfortable.  This is 100% an idea I got from participating in a series of workshops held by the group Cultural Reproducers in Chicago.

Picture of artwork, "Is the Modern Housewife a Lady of Leasure" by Elaine Luther

“Is the Modern Housewife a Lady of Leisure” by Elaine Luther. Not-a-quilt textile art, 2012. Materials: fabric, interfacing, wood hoops, found quilt fragment, custom fabric designed by the artist. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

This piece, above, is made of custom fabric, a quilt fragment, interfacing, thread. The circle on the right is mounted on a wood hoop so that it stands out from the wall.

Picture of Two Gallery Walls at Ghost Prints and Shadow Work by Elaine Luther.

Two Gallery Walls at Ghost Prints and Shadow Work by Elaine Luther. Two runners and many printed handkerchiefs, napkins and placemats. Each one is a photogram. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

Assemblage-textile art on handkerchief; individual leaves, handkerchief printed with photogram and light reactive dye, by Elaine Luther. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

This wall has two handkerchiefs on it, the one in the upper left surrounded by leaves, each leaf has a fragment of handwritten text on it, and the leaves blow down to the printed handkerchief on the lower left of the wall. The upper handkerchief is commercially printed and has an assemblage of leaves on it.

Picture of Three Leaf Collars by Elaine Luther

Three Leaf Collars by Elaine Luther, as installed at the Compassion Factory in Brookfield, Illinois. Materials: skeleton leaves, archival tissue paper, ink, lace, stain ribbon.

Above are the lace and leaf collars, which are actually wearable. I was surprised, and thrilled, to find that my sewing machine could sew through skeleton leaves without destroying them.

View of Two Gallery Walls, Art by Elaine Luther

Lace Collars and Rust Print by Elaine Luther. Shown as installed at the Compassion Gallery. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

Photo of Rust Print by Elaine Luther

Rust print on muslin with additional handkerchiefs printed with photograms of doilies in sepia color, plus one actual doily. Art and photo by Elaine Luther.

As we turn around, we see the next wall of art, with aprons and time cards.

Time Cards for Mothers by Elaine Luther plus aprons

“Time Cards for Mothers,” and found aprons with added text by Elaine Luther. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

Here’s the back story on these pieces. I made the time cards while at an independent residency at the Grand Marais Art Colony in Northern Minnesota in 2021. I’d picked up the time cards at a creative reuse store with no particular plan to use them, and I packed them, along with a lot of other collage supplies, when I went to the residency. While there, I collaged seven time cards on the theme of work that moms do, and called them “Time Cards for Mothers.”

Here are close ups of six of the time cards. These cards are what led to the Clocking in for Unpaid Labor Public Participation Art Project.

Collaged Timecards by Elaine Luther, 2021

Time cards collaged by Elaine Luther.

“Cooking,” “Entertaining” and “Sewing/Lessons” timecards for mothers, by Elaine Luther, 2021. Photos by the artist.

While in Grand Marais (the town), I headed to the local thrift store to buy a sweater, because I’d forgotten to pack one, having been so focused on packing art supplies. While at this really cool thrift store, I also bought that blue and white gingham apron with pocket and cross-stitching. I could tell that it was handmade and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. I bought it with no particular plan for it. Months later, I found the green gingham apron at a local, Chicago area thrift store. They’re nearly identical, and that got me thinking, “wait a minute, was this an assignment in a home economics class?” I asked in an online community and got the answer, “Yes!” Multiple women commented that they had made an apron just like that, and that the gathers were difficult!

That these aprons were made by children, in a home ec class (home ec connects to the two not-a-quilts), was just so perfect for connecting so many dots in this show.

I wanted to print or add text in someway, but was so hesitant to do it myself with paint, ink or dye, because I only had one shot at it. And these aprons are in perfect condition, which indicates to me that they were so much work to make, and so precious, that they were not used much.

I took them to the T-shirt shop and had the text added. The blue and white one says, “Care Work Makes All Work Possible,” and the green and white one says, “Shadow Work is Work that You Do that Someone Else Used to Get Paid for.”

The napkin on the wall to the right in the photo says the same line about shadow work, only both backward and forward, and the forward one has the text outlined in black. Here’s a close up of that teal napkin:

Teal napkin "Shadow work is work that you do that someone else used to get paid for," Solar Fast Print by Elaine Luther.

Teal napkin “Shadow work is work that you do that someone else used to get paid for,” Solar Fast Print by Elaine Luther. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

As we round the corner of the apron wall, we see:

View of the back wall and punch clock machine at Elaine Luther's solo show.

Wall of handkerchiefs, napkins and leaves, plus a partial view of the “Your Turn” time card wall and punch clock machine. Artwork by Elaine Luther and public participants (time cards). Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

Here are close ups of both of those walls:

Wall of Hankies and Leaves by Elaine Luther.

Wall of Hankies and Leaves by Elaine Luther. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

photo of the Your Turn wall of the Clocking in for Unpaid Labor Project.

The “Your Turn” wall where we’re showing all the time cards that are returned during the solo show. Various artists participating in the Clocking in for Unpaid Labor Project. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

This wall shows the “Your Turn” wall. I floated this idea in a few online communities in the lead up to this show – would anyone like a time card? Yes, they would. I mailed out time cards to people who sent me a business size SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), after having bought a pack of 200 on eBay. (eBay is also where I found the old punch clock.). I sent out some time cards unsolicited, to artist and writer friends, and to some of the folks who had participated in the micro gallery, until I ran out of stamps.

To see close ups of these time cards, see this post, which also lists the names of the artists.

As you turn to your right from the time card wall, there’s another wall of art, it’s our second to last wall in this show.

Butterfly specimen case with leaf butterflies.  Butterflies and labels are pinned down with 1/4″ long steel pins. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

As you step to the right, side stepping away from this wall, and head back toward the front door, this is your view:

Gallery view of Elaine Luther's Solo Show, Ghost Prints and Shadow Work, at the Compassion Factory, May 2022

Gallery view of Elaine Luther’s Solo Show, Ghost Prints and Shadow Work, at the Compassion Factory, May 2022. Photo by Dulce Rodriguez.

Here’s a close up of that not-a-quilt:

Not-a-quilt, "51 Hours" by Elaine Luther

Not-a-quilt, “51 Hours” by Elaine Luther, photo by the artist.

Show Statement

How do you get people to appreciate the work you’re doing when they’re benefitting from your labor, yet not noticing that you’re doing it? Women’s work – their physical labor, their emotional labor -often goes unpaid, underpaid, unnoticed and under appreciated.
With this artwork, I invite people to notice by making it beautiful, by drawing people in, to look more closely. I collect vintage, handmade doilies, in order to print them as photograms using light sensitive dye. Though most people think of lace and doilies as out of style and boring, once they’re transformed into blue and white they become  captivating.
These are printed on vintage hankies, which themselves have crocheted edges, so the handwork of unknown women shows up again and again in the work, layer upon layer. That the women are unknown, that their work was sold, cheaply, or given away, is another level of commentary in my work.
Beyond the blue and white, the show includes real, skeletonized leaves, which have been collaged with bits of handwritten letters received by the artist over the years. Fragments of conversation, of long ago gossip, are captured in these leaves. Letters, expressions of love and reports from back home, from those now dead, or contact lost, are all hinted at in bits and pieces on leaves. Sometimes these leaves come together in the form of butterflies. Leaves and butterflies fly across the gallery walls, sometimes singly, and sometimes coming together in larger works.
These text fragments on leaves are about former selves, old identities, and also symbolize family ties, relationships, and the emotional labor usually performed by women.
I most overtly address unpaid labor through a series of time cards, displayed along with a real, vintage time clock. There’s one collaged time card for each day of the week, each one representing a different category of work that women/mothers perform.
Taken all together, viewers take in the range of labor women perform to create a home life for others, raise children, keep connected with family near and far, all while maintaining her own friendships, interests and life. The hope is that by drawing people in with beauty and mystery, they will reflect on the issue of labor in their lives and the lives of those around them.

Unpaid Labor that Went into this Art Show

I couldn’t very well have a show about labor, domestic labor, unpaid labor and shadow work without acknowlging all the unpaid labor that went into this show.  Here’s the list:

The volunteers at the thrift store who iron the textiles, sort them and prepare them for sale.  The volunteers at the creative reuse store who organize the materials.  Family members and friends: processed requests for time cards, cooked dinner, typed the labels on a typewriter, gave opinions on art as needed during the art making process, designed the show, drove the kids, edited the show statement, did extra cooking, laundry, put hangers on the frames and wired them, found supplies I needed, assembled cardboard boxes to transport the show and helped to install and photograph the show.  In addition, I made the art and my family and friends wrote letters to me, way back when.  But wait, there’s more!  The artists who make time cards for the Your Turn wall and lent them to me.

Thank you so much!  To Betsy Zacsek for doing the gorgeous exhibition design for this show.  Her inventiveness and creativity are much appreciated and show the work off to its best effect in ways I wouldn’t have thought of!  (Hire her to design your show)

Thank you so much to Dulce Rodriquez for these amazing photos documenting this show!  I so appreciate having these pictures to document this important show.

Thank you to all the artists who are participating in the Clocking in for Unpaid Labor show, I’m having a lot of fun with you!

To my family, thanks for putting up with me and supporting me as I took up a lot of space and often had hands that were dyed funny colors.  You’re all excellent cooks.

Paid Labor that Went into this Art Show

Staff at the T-shirt shop, gallery, copy shop, and the newspaper reporter who wrote a story for the paper.

More information about specific artworks in this show

To read more about the original time cards, “Time Cards for Mother,” as well as the government department, the Bureau of Home Economics, see this post.

To see all the time cards artists have sent in for the “Your Turn” wall of the Clocking in for Unpaid Labor, see this post.

To see the call for art and join the project!  Details are here.. This is an on-going, open ended project. I’m currently looking for the next location where these could be displayed. I there should definitely be a book or a zine, don’t you think?

I could go into more detail about the not-a-quilts, but this post is pretty long, so I’ll write a new post specifically about those two pieces.

Thanks for joining me on this virtual tour!  If you’re in Chicagoland, the last day of the show is June 4, so there’s still time to see it in person!