Art explores work – and itselfJanuary 02,2013
By Mary Gow
In the cutting room of the H.W. Carter and Sons factory, miles of fabric were rolled out on long tables. Dozens of layers were perfectly aligned — denim for overalls, aprons, and jackets; flannel for linings — then precisely cut in the dimensions of time tested patterns.
The men and women who worked at the Carter factory through many decades cut, sewed, pressed and packed apparel sold around the country and beyond and known for its high quality
The Carter factory, although closed over two decades ago, is vividly present in the current exhibit at the Alliance for the Visual Arts gallery in Lebanon, N.H. AVA, housed in the factory’s former home on Bank Street, is hosting the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked,” and complementing it with local perspective.
“The Way We Worked” offers a multi-layered look at work in American culture. With historic photographs and a wealth of archival material, it is far-reaching in considering national changes in labor and the workplace environment over the last 150 years.
AVA adds a rich local focus, looking at the Carter factory and the men and women who worked there. On Jan. 4, AVA opens a second exhibit, “The Way We Work,” showing the current creative work of artists with studios in the building.
“It’s a really good opportunity to show the history of work. The factory was so important to this community,” said Margaret Jacobs, AVA exhibition coordinator.“A lot of communities around here have similar history.”
While the Carter factory building is being used in a different way now, as an art center with artists’ studios, classrooms and gallery space, it is again alive with people working, Jacobsen explained. This exhibit shows a part of the community’s industrial past and connects it to the present.
“So many people worked here for 30, 40, 50 years,” said Bente Torjusen, AVA executive director. “Pardon the pun, but it was part of the fabric of this community, how things have changed. Now you can work from home; the technology is very different; it’s more transient in many ways. There’s a lot of food for thought here.”
The Smithsonian traveling exhibit packs much thought-provoking material into five free-standing displays. Halibut fishing in Puget Sound in 1888, Pennsylvania coal miners in 1911, young women moving a huge block of ice and the 1946 ENIAC computer are among the 400 photographs that show facets of American work.
Recordings of labor songs, videos of people working in factories and on farms, are among the interactive elements that add dimension to the show. Danger in the work place, the changing tools of jobs are among recordings that can be accessed by cell phone from AVA (or at home later) that offer more prospective on some of the subjects and give viewers the opportunity to record their own stories.
In the United States, in 1940, less than 30 percent of the workforce was employed in managerial, clerical and sales jobs; in 2009, tables turned and over 70 percent were employed in those fields. Statistical tidbits on changing employment are sprinkled through the exhibit and help tell the complicated story of Americans at work
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