CASE STUDY: Amy Meissner – Needle & Myth

This case study explores a participatory textile making project by Amy Meissner. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.

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“Needle & Myth” installed at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, December 2018. Photo: Amy Meissner.

Title of case study project or workshop

Needle & Myth

Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any

Amy Meissner, artist

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, Alaska

Hollis Mickey, Chief Learning and Access Officer, Anchorage Museum

Context for project

“Needle & Myth” was a socially engaged and participatory arts project funded in part by the Rasmuson Foundation and supported by the Anchorage Museum. The community art piece coincided with the artist’s solo exhibition, Inheritance: makers. memory. myth., exhibited May – August 2018 at the Anchorage Museum and December 2018 – February 2019 at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.

When did the project take place?

Fall and winter 2017

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Collection of inherited linen handkerchiefs from “The Inheritance Project.” Photo: Amy Meissner, 2017.

Background(s) of the practitioner(s)

Amy Meissner is an Anchorage-based visual artist with a background in the clothing industry and is currently an Anchorage Museum Northern Research Lab Fellow (2020-21). She has undergraduate degrees in both art and textiles, an MFA in Creative Writing, and is an MA candidate in Critical Craft Studies (‘21, Warren Wilson College, North Carolina). Her personal art practice engages in the manipulation of abandoned vintage textiles to explore the literal, physical and emotional work of women.

Aims of project

This project was an opportunity to bring the community into the fold of a larger work called “The Inheritance Project” – an examination of contemporary value within inherited women’s handwork, during which the artist spent 13 months crowdsourcing cast-off vintage linens and accompanying narratives to ultimately become the final inheritor of over 600 handmade objects. A portion of this “inheritance” — 80 linen handkerchiefs – became the substrate for “Needle and Myth,” while the process became the conduit for collective memory through re-embroidery and creating a safe space for sharing personal or family narrative in small group settings.

Description of project

The Anchorage Museum hosted a series of 6 free 2-hour workshops in the Art Lab, with a cap of 12–15 participants at each session. Some people returned more than once. The majority were women in their 30’s – 60’s, 3 men participated and 3 children. Once registered, participants were asked in advance to complete the sentence “She was…” or “She is…” with a word or short phrase, and to bring a lightweight object to embed or attach to the project. Upon arrival, they were invited to choose a prepared, pressed handkerchief mounted on silk organza. Using air-soluble ink pens, participants wrote their chosen word(s) on some portion of the handkerchief and were encouraged to think about scale and design, but also honesty and memory as they would spend the next two hours with the memory of a woman while embroidering letters with a simple backstitch, stem stitch, or running stitch. All abilities were welcome, and the artist provided assistance for those who needed stitching help. Small, meaningful objects were either embedded between the layers of cloth or stitched onto the surface of each handkerchief. Participants were asked to dismiss knots and snarls, which would show on the reverse, as the project wasn’t an exercise in precision but rather in emotion.

Why did you choose to work in this way?

I wanted to share aspects of my personal practice with others, both the process of working with traditional materials and handwork, but also exploring conceptual ways of utilizing memory and narrative to consider mythologies and emotional truths of women. This project dovetailed nicely with the upcoming exhibition and provided a pre-programming opportunity for the museum.

What did you learn from the project?

When participants engaged in this handwork and didn’t have to have a face-to-face conversation, they were more willing to share intimate family narratives, often of women. We heard stories of abuse and neglect, but also great love, respect, awe, and loss. Some participants had learned to embroider from the very women they were holding in their minds for 2 hours, while others had missed the opportunity.

Related projects

“Seeding Repair: Fostering a Northern Repair Culture,” a series of free mending workshops, also in collaboration with the Anchorage Museum, June 2019 – April 2020.

Further information

Blog post further describing the project, “6 Needle & Myth Workshops,” December 4, 2017: https://www.amymeissner.com/blog/6-needle-myth-workshops

Inheritance Project: https://www.amymeissner.com/inheritance-project.html

Artist website: www.amymeissner.com

Instagram: @amymeissnerartist

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