Salt Lake City, UT
Cross-stitching has traditionally been seen as women’s work. It was taught as a handicraft, primarily to keep hands from being idle, and to promote often trite adages that were tediously stitched into fabric. Cross-stitch sampler kits are now preloaded with the necessary fabric, floss, and pattern required to create a specific design or adage. When expertly completed, the handiwork looks exactly like the promised pattern: a religious verse, a bouquet of flowers, a child’s name and birthdate.
Searching through countless thrift stores and friends’ attics, Bushman collected numerous cross-stitched samplers, often unframed and usually discarded. What was the purpose of these cross-stitched creations? Was there purpose in the act of stitching? Or was the finished product discarded because it didn’t live up to the maker’s expectations?
Perhaps the backs of these cross-stitched samplers may provide an answer. They rarely appear as neat or regimented as the front of the piece, and tell a much different story. Here we see an abundance of threads that intertwine and overlap, jumbled knots, jumping colors, gaps between stitches, and loose or frayed threads. Most women—internally and emotionally—resemble the back of a cross-stitched sampler. Much like a commercial cross-stitch kit, society dictates the role of women and provides a pattern of what it means to be a mother, wife, and professional. It may appear that, if a woman follows this prescribed pattern, she can obtain the societal definition of perfection. Women are supposed to see being loved as the greatest joy on earth. Yet this may be one of life’s greatest fallacies, as it reinforces the perception that a woman’s worth is wholly based on being valued by other people—her spouse, her children, her community—and how well she attempts to attain perfection within these spheres.
Bushman photographed these discarded cross-stitch samplers, focusing on exposing the details of their complex, unexpected, unseen backs. This work symbolizes the expectations placed on women to create a publicly acceptable façade—and how it also expects them to conceal the effort and skill it has taken to create this façade, even though the messiness and imperfections are necessary to create a perfect front. The chaos in the act of creation has proven to be much more interesting, substantive and beautiful than what the pattern dictated. The Greatest Joy explores what it means to be a woman, mother, spouse, professional, and artist.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website