Hanky HiStories - Solace & Tears in a Square
Exhibition at the Museum Herxheim, DE
postponed: 30.05. – 26.09.2021
Bobbin Lace, Collection Becker, Photo © Museum Herxheim
Hanky HiStories - Solace & Tears in a Square is the title of the exhibition from 30. May at the Museum Herxheim in the southern part of the Rhineland-Palatinate. Curators Monika Brückner (BA Embroidery, University Middlesex und MA Fine Art, OCA University Barnsley), master costume designer Kristina Baumert, and Rosa Tritschler dedicate their show to a tiny everyday accessory. Five exhibition rooms present it in many facets: hankies as an art format, as a form of political resistance and as a lifetime companion, hankies in political and social histories, in literature and poetry.
The show puts an emphasis on the extensive collection of handkerchiefs Liesel Becker has created. Since the 1960ies the former handicraft teacher compiled almost 1000 specimen made of silk, cambric, linen, and cotton.
The collection comprises ladies‘, gentlemen‘s and children‘s handkerchiefs in many varieties. Kerchiefs for brides, for funerals and for first communions remind of their owners‘ central biografical stagesn. They are family heirlooms.
Among the eye-catchers in Becker‘s collection are cloths with hand-made margins. They tell the story of the ardent assiduity and the breath-taking skills of their makers: crocheted and bobbin lace-making, cut-out and hemstitching, Assisi-Richelieu eyelet and linen embroidery, shadow, silk, and miniature embroidery.
Here is embroidery at its finest.
“Until a few decades ago girls on their days of honour – first communion, confirmation, wedding – received self-made handkerchiefs from one of the elder women in the family.“ This old custom has gone, Liesel Becker regrets. And the technical skills needed to create this frail and complicated needlework are no longer conveyed. “There are no mothers, aunts, grannies anymore who could still hem-stitch such a cloth.“ she resumes.
That is certainly true. Hand-made handkerchiefs are a thing of the past. Yet during their research the curators came across highly topical aspects of the hanky.
The Hanky in the Times of Corona
Artist Beatriz Schaaf-Giesser with her project „global texture – the Handkerchief Project“ turned the square piece of cloth into a contemporary medium of artistic and communicative meanings.
In 2009 Schaaf-Giesser won the 1st award of the 5th Bienal Internacional de Arte Textil in Buenos Aires for her work “Preserving“. In 2017 she was invited to the VII. Bienal Internacional in Montevideo, Uruguay.
In March 2020 the artist presented a workshop in Uruguay. Due to the Corona lockdown she returned to Germany.
There she thought about ways to support the female artists in South America who are severely hit by the pandemic. She started an online initiative to participate in a “Handkerchief Project,“ and suggested using a hanky like a canvas. In the difficult times of isolation, of insecurity and incertitude it is important to find a feeling of community: “When the hands are working, the head is free. Let your hands speak to transform feelings, thoughts, and wishes into tiny textile stories.“
The echo was overwhelming. Almost 100 female artists from Soth America and Europe joined in. Often they used handkerchiefs that had been kept in wardrobes for decades, heirloom pieces from mothers and grandmothers.
Liesel Becker‘s “secret network“ of women appears to be revived in the times of Corona in Beatriz Schaaf-Giesser‘s artistic initiative. The Herxheim exhibition will display at least 25 originals from this project. The handkerchief installation of artist Sophie Bloess – developed before Corona – already alludes to these. 16 gentlemen‘s handkerchiefs are the actual canvas imprinted with microscopic images of virusses and garden-designs.
“Souvenir Tears“ by Jane Grier
Another gem on display at Herxheim is Jane Grier‘s handkerchief of 1892, embroidered over and over with yarns and yarn-bundles: it is a textile icon from the historical Sammlung Prinzhorn at the Heidelberg University Museum. The handkerchief is one of the first works the art-historian and medical doctor Hans Prinzhorn (1887–1933) incorporated into his „Lehrsammlung“ (teaching collection). Jane Grier was a patient at the mental hospital of Pirna-Sonnenstein when she embroidered a handkerchief with her messages. As governess she was certainly skilled in the various stitching techniques. As a patient she could resort to this feminine dexterity, and with her exuberant emroidered handkerchief created a work that remains enigmatic to this day. Jane Grier‘s handkerchief is unparalleled, created in a personal “lockdown situation“ in a mental institution. Yet, disregarding the medical and historical background, it might definitely pass as a contemporary artistic contribution to Schaaaf-Giesser‘s “global-texture-project.“
The Handkerchiefs of Ravensbrück
Four handkerchiefs from the all-female concentration-camp Ravensbrück are exhibited in Herxheim. The depot of the Memorial Site at Ravensbrück holds a number of handkerchiefs emroidered by captives. The women made them as a sign of interconnectedness and solidarity – probably as a means of mutual reassurance. The hankies are a touching testimony of self-ascertainment of human beings in a situation of extreme violence and coercion.
Today they are deeply moving mementoes.
Messages from the Air
Hankies went soaring during the Berlin Blockade in 1948-49. While the Allies provided West-Berlin with food and goods, the “Candy Bombers“ carried a special freight for the children of Berlin.
When pilot Gail Halvorsen saw a group of kids on his approach to the tarmac he decided to throw them some sweets. He bundled together some chocolat bars and chewing-gum and fixed them to handkerchiefs that fell from the sky like parachutes. The news spread fast, and soon hundreds of children waited daily for thousands of hanky-parachutes. The handkerchief thus contributed to the American-German friendship. In the exhibition children will find such hanky-parachutes – and build some themselves if they wish.
The Herxheim Museum has developed a framework programme to the exhibition. For more information see www.museum-herxheim.de.
Work by ETN-member Beatriz Schaaf-Giesser: "zusammen sind wir eins", Photo © Museum Herxheim
Work by Estela Halpert "quedateencasa", Photo © Museum Herxheim
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