CONCORD — During World War I, artist Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts painted women of Concord in local churches bent over their needlework, making clothing for Belgian refugees. Roberts had a fluid touch and an eye for light; she was an accomplished painter who had studied in Paris and Rome. She sold the paintings, raising $10,000 for an ambulance to transport the wounded in France.
Roberts founded the Concord Center for Visual Arts in 1922. Alongside her paintings, her friends John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Mary Cassatt had work in the show. Concord Art celebrates its centennial this year with an exhibition of Roberts’s nimble work, including four “Women Sewing for Belgian Refugees” paintings. Curator Jane Deering has organized a companion exhibition of work by 16 contemporary artists, “The Conceptual Stitch.”
Threads connect. The tactility of textiles evokes intimacy and caring. Bridget Harvey’s “Lethe Jumper” and Sarah Hollis Perry’s “Mother’s Journal” give family ties material substance. In an artist’s statement in the catalog, Harvey says that her father has dementia. She stitches text of her own memories and feelings into an old, moth-eaten sweater of his, leaving threads loose and tangled, documenting their relationship and his decline. Perry scanned and printed her late mother’s journal and knit the lines of text into an elegant coat.
Sonya Clark’s small quilt “Araminta’s calling” comes from a much larger project, “Finding Freedom,” a 1,500-square-foot canopy she made with hundreds of collaborators, including, she says in wall text, “several . . . incarcerated individuals who currently live in the wake of slavery.” They created cyanotypes, sprinkling emulsion-coated fabric with seeds and exposing it to sunlight.
Blue speckled with white, “Araminta’s calling” is deep and inky as the night sky. Harriet Tubman was given the name Araminta Ross at birth, and legend has it that Tubman followed the North Star as she shepherded enslaved people to freedom. “Araminta’s calling” looks like a palpable scrap of the universe, offering guidance and hope.
Many of the pieces in “The Conceptual Stitch” hew to the spirit of Roberts’s paintings of women sewing. At a time of violence and divisiveness, work made by hand in a medium of touch can acknowledge pain, provide comfort, and help envision a way forward.
THE CONCEPTUAL STITCH
At Concord Center for the Visual Arts, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through Dec. 18. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.