(Editor's Note: Due to a production error, this article did not run in print.)
Curated by Professor Suzan Shutan, the Pins & Needles exhibit - which ran from January 21 through February 20, 2014 in the Burt Chernow Galleries in Lafayette Hall - showcased artworks created out of pins and needles, from which this event received its name. These “humble tools” lent themselves to elaborate sculptures and installations using a variety of supplementary materials, such as found household objects (thread, shoes, and cigar boxes) or cast wax figures.
Untitled (shoes), Erwina Ziomkcwska. Photo courtesy of the Housatonic Museum of Art.
Lizbeth Anderson, an art lecturer at Housatonic, likened the art to “the work of some diverse women from the colonial past [like] Martha Washington, Prudence Punderson, [and] Cynthia Burr [who] all used needlework in various forms to express themselves. That was what was available to them.”
She explained that this needlework, including crafts such as quilting and embroidery, was both a sought-after skill and a creative expression of the female experience – which, at the time, amounted to “identity, marriage, maternity, [and] death.”
Anderson took her students to view the Pins & Needles exhibit and said that it gave them “a new perspective, a new context in which to appreciate pins and needles. It was a perfect example of how studying art history can enhance a student's understanding of contemporary art and vice versa.”
Julies Ly, one of Anderson’s students, enjoyed the exhibit. “My favorite piece was definitely ‘Grove.’ It was the only piece that was on the floor, which definitely caught my attention.” "Grove," an installation sculptural piece by New York artist Tamiko Kawata, took up a large part of the gallery floor and featured dozens of phallic-shaped towers made entirely out of safety pins. The heights of the towers differed, as did the coloring - some silver and clean, others rusty-brown with age. Beneath the lighting of the gallery, each form cast a long shadow on the floor.
Another installation piece, “The Mortals,” created by artist Valerie Hallier out of pins, colored thread, and stickers, built an intriguing map of relationships, time, and location that took up a portion of the gallery wall. Each relationship was represented by a colored thread, each year by a circle, and each country was a constellation of interactions.
The Mortals, Valerie Hallier. Photo courtesy of the Housatonic Museum of Art.
Ly found the artists’ use of everyday household items unexpected, but says that she enjoyed it. “I will definitely be going to more exhibits in the gallery! I’ve never been to the gallery before, so seeing this exhibit caught my attention!”
Curator and Housatonic adjunct instructor Suzan Shutan did not have a favorite piece. “There is something about each piece that I love and it is why it [was] curated into the exhibit,” she said. Her own pieces, “Pom Poms I/Homage to Ellsworth Kelly” and “Pom Poms II/Homage to Sol LeWitt,” were also displayed and featured steel pins and colored pom poms.
Pom Poms I/Homage to Ellsworth Kelly, Suzan Shutan. Photo courtesy of the Housatonic Museum of Art.
In addition to Shutan, Hallier, and Kawata, other artists exhibited in this show included Kim Bruce of Canada, Belle Shafir of Israel, Erwina Ziomkowska of Poland, Jill Vasileff of California, and Janice Caswell, Karen Shaw, and Beth Dary, all of New York City. Shutan explained that the “commonality between the artists [in the exhibit] was the pure fascination with the multiplicity of these domestic objects often used as ‘women's work.’ Used as fasteners, they are blunt, sharp, and painful if you get pricked, but you can see them as a metaphor for ‘holding things together’ in one's life.”
She hopes that the patrons of the exhibit walked away with a greater sense of the beauty found in common materials, and that they will also “consider the global need to recycle or repurpose a material.”
The Housatonic Museum of Art was founded in 1967 by Burt Chernow, a former professor at Housatonic Community College. Its mission is to further “the enhancement of cultural life in Bridgeport, Fairfield County and Southern New England through the display, collection, interpretation and preservation of original works of art.”
While Pins & Needles has finished its showing, the Burt Chernow galleries in Lafayette Hall host art exhibitions throughout the year. The galleries are free and open to the public seven days a week. More information can be found on their website, www.HousatonicMuseum.org.