The life of an apron

Always looking for excuses to branch out, I made a large sculptural piece for Personal Armor: Artists’ Concepts of Aprons on exhibit at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD,  in January.  This piece is larger than most of my earlier work – a full-size hostess/maid’s apron, and it posed some new challenges, both technical and expressive.  I call this sculpture At Your Service

Technique: The apron stands on its front edge and balances on the bottom curl of the bow.  As with most of my paper work, I was able to make the armature over time.  Wire can sit and wait for you to decide what to do next and you can change your mind, cut elements out, rebend bits, add new bits on.  However, when it comes time to cover the piece, I’ve got to do it all in one go.  The wet paper only sticks to other wet paper, and you only find out once it’s dried whether or not you overlapped sheets adequately.  The color changes as it dries and some of the tiny textural effects don’t turn up until the piece is entirely dry and waxed.  Basically, it’s a calculated crapshoot.

Fortunately, most things worked out just as I’d planned.  I handcarved linoleum blocks with “help” and “please” to print in silver and gold along the lower portion of the apron.  I had been looking for an excuse to handcarve my printing blocks, so I finally seized the opportunity.  I am very happy with the way the solid apron front interacts with the openwork waistband and curving big bow.

Meaning/Subtext: Meanwhile, while I knew I was making an apron, I hadn’t really settled on whose apron and why I was making it.  Sure, it’s fine to just make an object, but this particular object was whispering to me, and I couldn’t quite hear it.  As I built the armature and thought about the form, I realized that an apron is a disguise.  Apron-wearers are often anonymous.  When we see someone wearing an apron, that piece of clothing often tells us that the wearer will help you/serve you.  We are given permission, sometimes, to ignore all but their function.  So the words “help” and “please” have many meanings.  An apron-wearer helps and pleases us by serving/cleaning/cooking.  But the words also represent unspoken requests.  A person wearing an apron is unlikely to ask for your help.  Sometimes apron-wearers would love for someone to help them, for a change.  And “please” is the golden word – one the apron-wearer (whether a mother or a waitress or a maid) would love to hear.  The relationship between the two words is complex.  I was glad to muse on it over the month I was making the piece.

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