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Diverse Institutions Collaborate on Suffragist-themed Project


With this historic election season, it was fitting that MCLA met with a university from across the nation to collaborate on a project centered on the time period and activities of men and women involved in the Suffragist movement. 

The collaboration, made possible by a grant from the Hardman Initiative Fund, features the artwork of students and faculty from MCLA and Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. Last month, five faculty and eight students from BYU joined their MCLA peers in the Berkshires for nearly a week to work together on the project.  

Their intensive exploration of the Suffragist movement took them to the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, and included a visit to the Crane Paper Mill in Dalton (right), where they learned how to produce cotton paper as part of their study of book arts.

Participants also discussed the 19th Amendment, and what has changed – or not changed – for women since 1917.

The opportunity to collaborate, converse and create with others from a different part of the country was exciting, as well as timely, since the project – which involved looking at the Suffragist movement and the impact of Susan B. Anthony – happened during this Presidential Election year, according to Melanie Mowinski, associate professor of visual art at MCLA.

“I was impressed with how engaged and devoted the students were,” Mowinski said. “They really dug into the project and were engaged from start to finish, in spite of a very rigorous schedule.” 

The results of their creative exchange are on display in “BEE IN HER BONNET: Works in Progress,” in the exPRESS gallery, 49 Main St. in North Adams, through Sunday, Nov. 20.

The show includes pressure prints that are paired with a descriptive word – each of which conveys creator’s relationship to clothing and how clothing functioned both symbolically and instrumentally during the Suffragist era.

Soon, the pressure prints will be made into two books – one for MCLA and the other for BYU – as well as two sets of traveling prints for each group of artists to exhibit at their discretion.

Other works include the products of a creative process (pictured at top) called “Plunder books,” in which participants contributed assorted items from which each created a book-like object.

Joshua Ostraff, MCLA assistant professor of art, explained, “Our books were quick and intuitive based responses to the role clothing played in the Suffrage movement.”

The piece Ostraff created helped him to generate ideas for a book he’s in the process of making for a print exchange between the participants. Throughout November, they are creating additional handmade paper and books that explore the Suffragist era and the activities of those involved in the movement.

Exhibition copies, Ostraff said, will be exhibited both in Massachusetts and Utah, including at BYU and MCLA galleries, and at other institutions.