by Sally Logue Post
Solar Powered Paper Dolls
Carol Flueckiger’s art shines a slightly different light on women’s history.
For generations children have played with paper dolls, trying on new fashions and new identities. Carol Flueckiger is taking the game a step further–she’s trying on history, specifically the handwriting of early American women activists.
“I am fascinated by history,” said the Texas Tech University associate professor of art. “That is what I like to capture in my work. The metaphor for me is trying on history like a pair of jeans and a T-shirt to see how it fits.”
A historian by interest, a painter by training, Flueckiger pulls together many separate threads in her work. She mixes history and art with a desire to use her environment, particularly the blazing West Texas sun, to print historic handwriting samples onto thrift store cotton shirts. She thinks of these printed shirts as sketches for a body of work titled “Solar Powered Paper Dolls.”
Art and Nature
Flueckiger uses a technique called cyanotype that produces a cyan-blue print–exactly like architects and engineers used for decades. It is a photosensitive technique that uses an ultraviolet light, such as the sun, to fix an image onto wood panels, paper or even cotton clothing.
Flueckiger's pieces are layered with writing excerpts from early American women activists.
“I started working with cyanotype about a decade ago,” she said. “I was printing leaves into my paintings. A colleague suggested I try cyanotype, and I loved it. The image was burned into the work, but it had a collage feel to it, as if it had been cut, pasted and taped. I love that the image sort of just hovers in the piece, it’s sort of magical, I think.”
Flueckiger has always used nature in her art. “I’m not an artist who wants to duplicate nature in my work, but rather I want to collaborate with it. As an artist, I love the studio practice of composing and making a painting, but I also want to be part of the contemporary dialogue of sustainability,” she said. “I love that my paintings have the West Texas sun in them. I think that it is important to be an artist who exists with the environment that you are in–I celebrate that in my work.
Reformers and Art
Flueckiger has spent the last six years integrating her interest of the early American civil rights movement into her art by looking at the handwriting of reformers such as Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She has samples of handwriting gathered from the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her “Woman’s Bible” is of particular interest to Flueckiger.
Click images to enlarge.
Flueckiger uses thrift store shirts as a canvas for her silk-screened vintage paper doll motif from the American Antiquarian Society.
Flueckiger visited the Library of Congress, where she viewed and digitized materials such as the Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Women’s Bible.”
“Stanton has the idea that the Bible was limiting her ability to take full ownership of her political rights,” said Flueckiger. “She never turned away from the church or the Bible, she just wanted to see herself more equally represented in how the Bible was interpreted.”
As part of her effort to reform the Bible, Stanton asked scholars to cut out sections of the Bible that referred to women, paste those sections onto paper, and then rewrite the passage with their own interpretation of the passage.
The original “Woman’s Bible” is in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. With a grant through Texas Tech’s first Internal Competitive Funding Opportunity to Advance Scholarship in the Creative Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Flueckiger traveled to Washington to digitize sections of the document for use in her art.
The Library of Congress has more than 100 sheets of paper of the taped passages with the handwriting of Stanton and others making comments. It is the cutting and pasting of these pieces that struck a chord with Flueckiger.
“When I look at this early American reformer cutting and pasting, that goes straight to my art training,” said Flueckiger. “To me it says this is an artist at work. This is someone who’s trying to rework her history through the means that I talk about so much in my classes: cutting, pasting, composition and recomposition.”
Recycling the Cycle
The cotton paper used to write “The Woman’s Bible” also appealed to Flueckiger’s sense of environment and sustainability.
In the early 19th century, there was a movement to recycle rags, especially cotton cloth, into paper. “I liked the fact that a piece of cotton clothing would be solicited and then be recycled and made into paper–perhaps the paper used to write ‘The Woman’s Bible,’” she said.
Today Flueckiger carries that cycle forward by blueprinting the handwriting of the early reformers onto cotton clothing that she finds at thrift stores. “I’m using clothing and adopting it for a sort of paper reuse,” she said.
Very much as she imagines Stanton was trying on history and tailoring what she had inherited, Flueckiger also is trying on her culture through her work.
“I think the handwriting looks almost like a thread, the stitching that makes up the fabric of our history,” she said.
School of Art
The School of Art is part of the College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech. The school, which is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, offers undergraduate degrees in art history, communication design, studio art and visual studies, as well as graduate programs in art history, art education and fine arts.
The Internal Competitive Funding Opportunity to Advance Scholarship in the Creative Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences or CAHSS award was established in 2011 by the Office of the Vice President for Research as a means to support the scholarship and creative activity of faculty in disciplines with little external funding as compared to the sciences and engineering.
In 2012, 82 proposals were submitted and a total of $599,994 was awarded. In 2011, $441,506 was awarded to 40 faculty members.
Sally Logue Post is Director of Research and Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Photos courtesy Neil Hinkle and Carol Flueckiger.