Rules of Domesticity ~ November 2011

The shadows of the past are still cast on modern women. Echos of the roles grandmothers played are still encoded in current domestic life.   But the post-feminist ideals have taken root and will not be ignored. Showing how these two worlds mesh is the theme for an exhibit at the Harlow Gallery entitled “Rules of Domesticity.”  The art exhibition, on view November 4-26, 2011 at the Harlow Gallery in downtown Hallowell, will feature the work of four Maine artists: Cynthia J. Ahlstrin of Winthrop, Debra Arter of Damariscotta, Jennifer Booker of Readfield and Barbara Nelson Emerson of Fayette. The artists will explore domestic roles visually through various art mediums including sculpture, installation, printmaking, book arts, beading, sewing and soap.    The public is invited to meet the artists at the opening on Friday, November 4, 2011 from 5-8pm.  Special refreshments keeping with the theme will be served.

Their work is about the contrast of the “traditional” and the “modern”, the feminine and the masculine, the proper and subversive.  The exhibit affirms their shared interest in paradox, memory, irony and power relative to domestic life in order to shed light on cliche roles, stereotypes, work and history.   The results are varied and exciting as they share their unique approaches and vision of life behind the “Rules” of Domesticity.


Cynthia J. Ahlstrin thoroughly enjoys employing a wide variety of interdisciplinary skills in her daily art practice.  Cynthia graduated from UMA in 2004 with a Bachelors degree in Studio Arts, summa cum laude.  Cynthia’s current body of work is an exploration domestic work traditionally referred to that of “being a woman’s.”  Her efforts have produced a darkly humorous series of images, assemblages and artist’s books which convey various solutions for women to challenge “the rules” of domestic work and the marginalization that it often produces.  Cynthia has chosen to employ a color palette and several patterning qualities that are similar to those used in advertisements of household goods in the 1950’s.  Much of Ms. Ahlstrin’s work juxtaposes her own personal experiences as a woman, mother, artist and wife with society’s conventional perceptions surrounding “women’s work” and the rules of domesticity.

According to Debra Arter, “In my art practice I am currently exploring the idea of making “invisible” labor – specifically in the domestic sphere, visible. By recombining materials having to do with acts like cleaning, cooking, laundry and grocery shopping with traditional “women’s” crafts like weaving, knitting and crochet I hope to kindle thoughts about history, stereotypes, and cliché roles. As a young girl growing up in the Midwest, my first weaving project was to make potholders from looped nylon bands on a small square metal loom.  The idea of weaving a potholder out of bacon came to me when I was looking for a medium that would transform itself, relate to the kitchen, be universally identifiable and yet meet the task of being “elevated”.   Unknowingly, my interest in addressing ideas about global sustainability was able to be expressed when the resulting grease which relates to notions of excess, energy and resources also became an art material.  Despite the struggle in dealing with a temporal material like bacon I feel I am locating the elusive magical space that Vik Muniz speaks of,  ‘The magical space in between realism and artifice, between physical phenomenon and mental activities between objective and subjective states.’ “

Jennifer Booker discovered her life’s passion at the age of 9 with her first Kodak inst-o-matic camera. After high school she attended The Maine Photographic Work Shop in partnership with the University of Maine at Augusta and received her associates degree in Photography. From there, she went on to the BFA program at the Art Institute of Boston but left a few credits short of her degree to get married. She always intended on going back but then life happened. She had her daughter (now 10), got a divorce, and was a single working mother for many years. Now she is a stay at home mom and student at UMA thanks to her supportive partner, Greg. Juggling the responsibilities of parenting (she also has 1 year old twins), housewife, and student, combined with her past experiences has given her definitive direction in her art. She asks the questions ‘what is a modern woman’s role in today’s society? Is it okay to be traditional and still be a feminist? And many others that address the ambiguity of the modern woman’s identity. She uses her own photographs as well as found images from the Internet and, in breaking away from her foundation in traditional photographic printing methods, uses PhotoShop to create her work. Her latest piece, The Sitting Room, is an installation the creates a quiet reading nook for the lady of the house, pretty and proper, until you step in for a closer look….

Barbara Nelson Emerson a recent UMA graduate, is a sculptor who has had a passion for beadwork all of her life. Working in her home studio in Fayette, no matter what medium she chooses to use, those tiny seed beads always find a way into her work. Barbara’s
current and continuing work consists of a series of items that are predominantly used by men. Barbara has taken them out of their context and has entirely changed their reality by covering them with small beads.