MANCHESTER — For the past six months, Brattleboro artist Ruth Shafer has been putting together “The Weight,” in which she combines sculpting and sewing to create what she sees as familiar but uncomfortable connections.
“The whole show is about the obligation and expectation of comfort and service within the home and how that is expressed on the body of the domestic worker, which is often the woman,” she said. “The pieces I’ve done for the show all have a character or an implication or a sense of weight in them.”
Her exhibition is part of the Dwell: Home Is Where the Art Is exhibition, which runs through September 11 at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester. The exhibition begins Friday with a reception from 5pm to 7pm and also features the work of Maxine Henryson, Alejandra Seeber and Suzanne Wright.
Shafer said the exhibit should touch on themes of domesticity and belonging, and reflect the history of Yester House at the arts center.
“Prior to the building’s conversion into art galleries in the early 1950s, SVAC’s Yester House was a private estate,” says svac.org. “Many of the rooms still retain architectural features that remind us of this history, like fireplaces and linen closets.”
Shafer said she will have a fabric installation in a two-door cabinet in one of the galleries.
For about 10 years she has been making sculptures on the subject of domesticity and the body at home. But she called the new show her “best rendered and fully realized work.”
Her first sculpture exhibition included more abstract pieces about linens, furniture and quilts. It was also interactive.
Shafer said she tends to be interested in fiber arts because so many of the “techniques like embroidery, crochet, quilting, sewing and dressmaking are so often relegated to women’s work and don’t have equal weight and importance in art history.” to have”.
“My interest in fiber crafts also extends to what shapes our lives that we don’t recognize,” she said. “Where’s the art? Where’s the craft? Where’s the recognition?”
Women make “the social fiber” that people wear and are nurtured by, Shafer said.
She was awarded a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council last year for the show. It is her largest and most prestigious grant to date.
According to Shafer, the grant program supports artists as they create new work, with both established and emerging artists receiving $4,000 for the time expended, the purchase of materials, or the rental of equipment or space for their projects.
“It’s made a huge difference,” she said of the funding. “It definitely resulted in the best work of my life.”
Most of the money was spent on living expenses while she focused on making the show. About $1,000 went to materials.
Shafer bought a lot of fabric from the Experienced Goods thrift store for the Brattleboro Area Hospice and Swanson’s Fabrics in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. She was also given packaging filler, which the owners of Tavernier Chocolates in Brattleboro didn’t need.
Monika Grist-Weiner, who works at the New England Youth Theater in Brattleboro, allowed Shafer to wrap her in duct tape to make the puppet that sits on the chair of “SlipCover,” the show’s central sculpture, which also includes two matching ones armchairs belong.
“It depicts a seated figure that is both obscured and defined by an elaborate overlay,” reads a press release. “Using feminine shapes, fabrics and familiar design elements, Shafer’s work is both engaging and unsettling.”
Shafer, who also made pillows with breasts to add some humor to the show, said she noticed that furniture and the female body have a lot in common.
“Physically, there are arms, legs, a strong back, and comfy pillows to lean on,” she explains in the press release. “From a cultural perspective, they have a specific place of duty at home. I created this show to both celebrate the female form and remind the viewer of how women and domestic workers are fused with objects of service and comfort.”
Sarah Freeman, exhibits director at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, said she looks forward to seeing Shafer’s exhibit.
“Her deft use of familiar domestic techniques and materials juxtaposed with tongue-in-cheek commentary on women’s bodies and the home makes for a succinct and humorous combination,” she says in the press release.
Regarding the future of The Weight, Shafer said she would “really appreciate it being shown in a lot of places.”
“I don’t want it back in my house anytime soon,” she said, laughing.
For the installation of the show, Shafer gets help from her friend Lydia Kern from Burlington. Recently, Shafer helped Kern set up a show at the Epsilon Spiers in Brattleboro.
Shafer was born at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend and grew up in Newfane. She has lived in Brattleboro for about four years and has shown art around town at the Harmony Collective, Hermit Thrush Brewery and the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery.
Her work can be seen at ruthshafer.com and on Instagram @rruthshafrr. The Southern Vermont Arts Center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.