A Textile Artist’s Take on Western MA Labor History

A Textile Artist’s Take on Local Labor History
Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA
March and April 2014

Western MA native, Deborah Baronas, has an exhibit at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, now through April 2014. Baronas will show a body of work that examines the lives of 19th century laborers, highlighting the work of textile mill workers, domestic servants, and tobacco farm field hands. This exhibit is more than an art show; it immerses viewers in history and can be used as an educational tool to recreate the past and delve into the lives and experiences of 19th-century working-class laborers.

Artist Deborah Baronas grew up on a farm in western Massachusetts, encouraged to pursue her interest in art when she wasn’t helping her parents in the fields. Years later, with a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and many years of experience in textile design, she has begun to explore the dichotomy that has defined her life – that of a “gritty work culture” versus the “world of glamour” – and the “duality [of] manufacturing and production,” through her art.

In an upcoming exhibition at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA, Baronas will show a body of work that examines the lives of 19th century laborers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The exhibition highlights the work of textile mill workers, domestic servants, and tobacco farm field hands through hand-stenciled and screen-printed images on the strong, coarse fabric known as “scrim,” as well as paintings, historical artifacts, and other materials. This exhibit is more than an art show; it immerses viewers in history and can be used as an educational tool to recreate the past and delve into the lives and experiences of 19th-century working-class laborers.

“We are always in a state of having lived in the past, residing in the present and looking to the future. We mark the passage of time by examining our presence in the present,” says Baronas. For her, the creation of these pieces – these juxtapositions of her adult work as a textile designer with her younger work as a painter and farmhand – illustrate her own past, present, and future, as well as the past, present, and future of the workers who populated the mills and farms in the Pioneer Valley a century earlier.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why might Baronas, a textile expert, choose to use scrim (a coarsely-woven fabric often used for upholstery) in her work? How does her choice of fabric affect the message her art conveys?

  • What do you know about the history of labor in North America? How does Baronas’ exhibition impact your understanding?

  • How would you illustrate your own past, present, and future? Which aspects of your life would you choose to highlight, and with what materials?

  • What aspects of history would you most like to explore through art? Why?

Related Events:

  • Meet Deborah Baronas at the exhibition’s opening reception on Saturday, March 8, 2014, from 2pm – 4pm at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA. Admission is free for members, $3 for nonmembers.
  • Wistariahurst Museum and the Carriage House & Gift Shop are open Saturdays through Mondays  from 12noon to 4pm. Historic House Tours are $7 general admission; $5 for students and seniors. Archive Research hours are Mondays from 9am – 7pm and Thursdays from 9am – 1pm. 413-322-5660. 238 Cabot St. Holyoke, MA. For more information, visit www.wistariahurst.org.

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