For Salley Mavor, “the show must go on.”
And this week, it will.
After a year of preparation, the Falmouth-based artist had planned to display her latest artwork — hand-stitched and painted figurines of President Trump and his administration, photographed in various scenes — at Cape Cod’s Highfield Hall and Gardens earlier this month.
But when officials from the venue gave her an ultimatum, asking her to either ditch the political aspects of her work or pull out of the upcoming exhibit, Mavor felt she had no choice but to withdraw. After all, the bulk of the project was Trump-themed satire, she said.
“The wording was, ‘I should amend the show and remove any political references, or cancel it,’ ” she said in a telephone interview. “That was the message I got.”
Luckily, Mavor said, shortly after her exhibit was canceled — just 10 days before its debut — those in the fiber-art community rallied behind her and found her a new place to go.
On Wednesday, Mavor’s project, titled, “Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor,” will appear at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell instead. Her art will be featured from Sept. 26 through Dec. 30.
“They have been overwhelmingly supportive of the project and expressing that to me,” she said. “And I’m very, very touched by the outpouring.”
Officials from Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth did not immediately return a request for comment.
But according to The Cape Cod Times, Highfield’s executive director, Peter Franklin, said the board of trustees worried that “we would look partisan” by showing the work.
The entire experience has been a new one for Mavor, who is known for illustrating children’s books and for designing small, uncontroversial dolls.
It was around her 60th birthday, in 2015, that Mavor had “a sense that the rest of my life as an artist would be different” and decided to break away from her niche work to explore a new topic.
The result was 12 photographs of the handmade dolls — of Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kellyanne Conway, Vice President Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and others — set up in a dollhouse and on miniature stage sets. The images were shot by her husband.
“Creating the characters and setting them up in scenes was a cathartic experience where I felt in control, even as chaos ensued nationally,” Mavor said in a follow-up e-mail. “For me, the work is about stepping away from a safe, sheltered existence and into a very real reality, one where there is possibility for action toward making a difference in the world.”
One of the scenes shows a doll of Trump standing outside the White House dressed as the Queen of Hearts from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
The president, who is flanked by likenesses of Sean Spicer, Bannon, and Conway, is pointing at the press pool seated in front of him. Above the scene are the words “OFF with their heads!”
Mavor said she had planned to bring her artwork to Highfield Hall and Gardens for a Sept. 9 show, which was in the making for more than a year. But then she got the call regarding concerns about the content, which includes a short stop-motion film featuring the dolls called “Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free.”
“I had one day to get back to them,” Mavor said.
In a blog post about the last-minute change of plans, which Mavor titled “Censored,” she said the decision to ask her to scale back the artwork was probably because of economic concerns.
“The members of the venue’s board of trustees were afraid that because this show is controversial and asks the viewer to ponder our current political climate, some donors might be offended and donations could fall off,” she wrote.
But to “remove the political part would be like taking the stuffing out of the dolls, leaving limp characters of very little consequence and nothing important to say,” she said.
And so she withdrew her work.
“Salley made it easier by pulling the show, since it allows us time to develop a policy” for political exhibits, Franklin, Highfield’s executive director, told The Cape Cod Times. “If the policy is to allow it, we’ll invite her back.”
In the end, Mavor said she has no “ill will” toward the venue and organization and is excited to bring her vision to Lowell this week.
“Having my work censored is like nothing else I’ve experienced as an artist. My past work has been about comfort and safety, and this is new territory for me,” she said. “Now I know that what I have made is so powerful, that it makes people nervous, and it feels as if the art is separate from me now and has a life of its own.”