Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Elaine Reichek

There are a couple of projects brewing in my head ('tis not all wool and spinning in there). One of them, or maybe a couple of them, involve cross stitch, a needlework technique that I have never done. I have been scouring the Corner Brook public library for reference books on cross stitch and bothering Patti, who is an expert and makes and sells her own designs. She once made one of my all-time favourite pieces embroidering with her own hair the word "peace" as if an illuminated manuscript. Guess what she called it? "Hair Peace" of course! She has replicated that design and offers it to the public, but I don't think she insists you use your hair.

Thinking about cross stitch also has reminded me of Elaine Reichek, the artist whom I credit with giving me the courage to ditch painting and pick up my needles as a way of making art. I saw an exhibition of her work at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU in or around 1990 that forever changed my life. I was still stinging from a male professor's comments that my embroideries were not art (that's what he said! "You know these are not art." You know, you're an...) Does it matter that he was male? Would a female professor have reacted differently? I had very few female professors so it is hard to guess but I like to think she might have been just a smidge less condescending and more constructive in her criticism.

In any case, those battles are far behind me now, in large part, because I happened to wander into this exhibition by Elaine Reichek on my lunch hour from my administrative assistant job at The Drawing Center. She blew my mind. I even called her up on the phone when I discovered that we actually had a mutual friend in common. I was much bolder then, I am younger than that now. She was lovely, if a little surprised to have a fan calling her on the phone.

Over the years, I sent her my exhibition announcements and we spoke a couple more times - she was always supportive of what I was up to (why couldn't she have been my professor??). Then, ten years later, I met her as we were both finalists for a percent for art project at new high school being built in Queens. I wanted to kiss her feet but I think I mostly just grinned madly and lost all capability of intelligent speech. Elaine was dynamic and talked a mile a minute and was just great.

Here is an image of one of her embroidered samplers. It is called Home Sweet Home (Kilmainham). Kilmainham was a notorious prison in Dublin (now it's a museum) were many Irish republican fighters were imprisoned.

I still love her.

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