Erin Endicott is an American textile artist whose finely rendered and disturbing vignettes serve to tell the story of her own identity, but also those who came before, an ancestral story like no other that has a rather wondrous matriarchal appeal.
When one looks at this body of work, there seems a gossamer thread linking the lives of contemporary women to those of a Victorian era. Creatures who lived and breathed, birthed and died just as we do. Using red stitching to form fanning patterns of blood, combined with burn like areas, she presents an artifact of great power and an uncanny beauty.
Erin’s work is delicate, and yet it confronts a corporeality associated with birth and death, something either brutally exploited or suffering a sort of sanitized makeover within our visual culture. I have been lucky enough to work with a number of women artists for whom the tradition of handwork, craft and the “domestic” arts have opened new channels of making, creating and history, and it was a great honor to learn more about Erin’s personal connection to such traditions as well as the things she collects and remakes.
The Healing Sutras are particularly powerful, weaving a tale or a positive organic truth, representing ideas of birth, growth and decay, and refers to the artist’s childhood days spent in the rural wetlands and forests of remote areas of New Jersey. She uses stitch marks to signify roots and seeds, a device for symbolic storytelling.
The series as a whole evokes the process of making handmade things, even heirlooms and this in turn is connected metaphorically to the idea of women and generative power, the presence of red, evoking the life-giving power of the feminine, the presence of blood in birth and in the female cycle. If you find this repulsive in some way, look inwards to see why, it is after all fine to be a person who may shy away from blood and the visceral, but what if it is for you, truly part of something more socially inscribed, this hidden away way of life, of birth, and death? This life of women.
The truth is that as women in the western world we no longer share these cycles in such an intimate way, births and deaths increasingly are taking place in hospitals, women rarely learn to sew from their mothers, an art form long cherished, and the presence of blood is gone from our horizon. No more, hand washing of clothes, stained by the cycle of the moon, of the heavy breast. It is no irony that one of my own favorite heirlooms is in fact, my Victorian grandmother’s intricately stitched nursing shirt she made herself, with the tiniest of looped Austrian lace work, that still bears traces of the nurturing power of one woman.
For her part, Erin explains that it is truly the expressive process that drives her, a catharsis of sorts. The need to create was always present in her heart. Even as a very young child, Erin dreamed of becoming an artist, and found great pleasure in creating, collecting and making. Her grandmother, an artist herself, encouraged serious study including art lessons and Erin was soon to follow her footsteps and attend Moore College.
Always fond of the tactile sensual quality of fabric and the textile arts, it was here that the artist discovered the wonders of this field, a pictorial language beyond the sewing room, explaining this moment of epiphany:
“I knew that would be my artistic path. I was soon immersed in the study of weaving, pattern design, and a huge variety of textile based techniques.”
Here in these works on paper, we see the stitching process, the way roots and seeds fan out germinating, organic way with a natural lived wisdom, borne in the living body, scattered white like a delicate sense of memory, heirloom, and artifact.
Erin’s journey comes from a deep felt connection and curiosity about the craft traditions of her own family, and the way in which the experiences of her ancestors have come to form a narrative and way of being. Of this leitmotif, she notes:
“My work is a visual history of these journeys and stories, a way to honor my ancestors while holding a place for the viewer to connect to my work through their own experience.”
Like other practitioners of sculptural fabric work, Erin’s process is imbued with a meditative work process. The story itself an intriguing quality to it, and Erin’s answer to how she found her way to this field is fascinating:
“I found solace in the repetitive, meditative processes of textiles (weaving, coiling, stitching etc.) This was something that I did not find in my painting practice. This was a period where I learned the importance of having a concept behind my work. We were not making “craft for crafts sake” but were using “craft” techniques to create meaningful works of art. This has always remained an essential part of my work, an honest, intentional, and vulnerable expression of myself interpreted through technique.”
RB: There is a hauntingly beautiful tone to much of your work, memories, stains, burns, stitching on stitching. How did you come to embroider and sew, and what draws you to this medium?
EE: I come from a family of women who have loved to sew, from making clothing to delicately stitched quilts, my mom, grandmother and aunt were always sewing something. As a young child, I loved to sit on the floor in my mom’s sewing room and make little dresses for my stuffed animals while she was at the machine making matching dresses for my younger sister and me. I had a great-grandmother who was a hat trimmer and another who sewed and embellished costumes for the Mummers in Philadelphia so I definitely came by my love of stitching and textiles honestly.
Visit the artist’s website + Instagram @healingsutras , as well as the upcoming exhibition opening on July 30, 2016 at the MT Burton Gallery, Long Beach Island, New Jersey.