The Big Idea
Deeds Not Words: Women Working for Change
January 8 - April 16, 2021
Coinciding with the centennial of ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Deeds Not Words celebrates the many ways—both seen and unseen—that women have worked for social change. The project takes its title from the slogan of British suffragettes who, like many suffragists in America, decided that direct action rather than rhetoric alone was necessary to secure women’s suffrage. The project looks back at some surprising history (including Idaho’s decision to grant women the vote in 1896) and explores the way women give voice to power today.
image: Angela Ellsworth, Pantaloncini: Group IV, The Ten Largest No. 6, Ahead (Hilma), (Detail) 2020, 40,180 pearl corsage pins, colored dress pins, fabric, steel, courtesy the artist
The visual arts exhibition includes work made in response to the history of women activating for social change. It looks at different ways women have fought for suffrage, dress reform, civil rights and economic equality.
SVMoA has commissioned Portland-based artist Pat Boas to create an installation in response to the history of women’s suffrage in the United States, with a focus on Idaho and the American West. It includes a new body of paintings, artist-designed wallpaper and a broadside featuring excerpts from a 19th-century speech given in support of women’s suffrage in Idaho that visitors may take home with them. The installation honors the women who worked for the right to use their voices at the ballot box.
The exhibition also features two sculptures from artist Angela Ellsworth’s series Pantaloncini. Inspired by bloomers, Ellsworth crafts these works with fabric, steel and tens of thousands of pearl corsage pins and colored dress pins. The sculptures allude to the history of dress reform, which freed women from confining garments like corsets, and feature patterns that refer to the early modernist works of Emma Kunz and Hilma af Klint, innovative artists who received little attention in their lifetimes.
With support from a Guggenheim Fellowship, artist Elena del Rivero has produced a series of suffrage flags celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment. SVMoA joins institutions around the country in flying these flags, which are modeled on dishtowels and refer to the public work women undertook in pursuit of suffrage as well as their private activism within the domestic sphere. The exhibition also includes del Rivero’s Domestic Landscapes, works on ledger paper featuring abstract patterns made with ink, thread, spices, coffee and other materials of domestic life.
For several years, the artist Lava Thomas has been making large drawings of women who have worked for racial justice. The exhibition includes Thomas’s portrait of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman and two portraits made from the mugshots of women who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950s, Audrey Belle Langford and Ida Mae Caldwell. Thomas’s portraits honor women who risked criminal prosecution, imprisonment or worse while advocating for the rights of Black Americans.
Also included are reproductions of drawings that the architect Alice Constance Austin made in the early 20th century as a member of Llano del Rio, a socialist intentional community in southern California. Austin believed architecture could activate social change, and she envisioned Llano del Rio as an egalitarian city of kitchenless houses that would free women from their work in the home and allow them to pursue any profession they chose. Alongside Austin’s drawings are reproductions of photographs of daily life at Llano del Rio and a selection of artist Kim Stringfellow’s photographs of what remains of the failed community today.