Practical Work takes as a starting point a selection of original printed materials produced by the American and British woman suffrage movements from the early twentieth century. These posters, banners, cartoons, and periodicals demonstrate the pragmatic, strategic nature of artistic production used to support the many positions taken by various groups advocating for women’s right to vote. British organizations such as the Artists’ Suffrage League and the Suffrage Atelier formed specifically to apply members’ considerable training and skill towards the production of a persuasive visual culture that defined and promoted the cause. In the US, individual artists worked in tandem to direct their time and creative labor towards the cause, often sharing a common language of colors, symbols, and strategies to create a national and trans-atlantic conversation.
The community-oriented creative energy demonstrated by the suffrage artists continues today, as demonstrated by artist Jillian Bruschera. With her Mobile Mill project she has created a transportable, fully-mobile hand-paper making mill that “is about making things, and it is also about making things happen.” Bruschera creates artistic communities wherever she goes, challenging assumptions about who makes things, where, and why. During her residency on the Wells campus, Bruschera will work with students to create an installation made of handmade paper and student-generated text. This project, titled “IF/SUPPOSE,” responds to the language and mission established by suffragist visual culture, suggesting the idealism and cooperation needed to bring about change.
Joining Bruschera are artists Angela Davis Fegan, Maggie Puckett, and Maggie Pucket + Melissa Potter (Seeds InService). Each of these artists uses printed, hand-made paper to support images, text, and social interaction that advocate for feminist causes. Whether recognizing the importance of women leaders, as in Puckett’s Revolutionary Women, engaging in eco-feminist paper activism (“Seeds InService”), or using the poster form to cross between art object and active, functional protest tool (Angela Davis Fegan and Jillian Bruschera), this work continues the long-standing alliance between printed matter and collective political engagement.
“Practical Work” is the result of invaluable assistance from The Howland Stone Store Museum and Wells College Archives at Louis Jefferson Long Library. Jillian Bruschera’s residency with the Wells College Book Arts Center is supported by the College’s Scholar In-Residence program.