For much of time, society has come to associate art with mediums such as painting, sculpture and drawing. Throughout the 20th century, however, new generations of artists sought to broaden this narrow list of mediums to include textiles, ceramics and works traditionally labeled “crafts.”
Penetrating a long-established hierarchy of sacred artistic mediums, female and minority artists argued that not only did these practices produce artworks in their own right but also that they carried with them a powerful undercurrent of tradition and cultural identity.
Now, Park City Museum’s “Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections” grapples with the iconic legacy of the apron, a symbol of nearly universal association.
The exhibition began in 2004 when writer and curator EllynAnne Geisel invited contributors to submit stories recalling “a woman who’d worn an apron and what she represented to a family,” according to a press release. This invitation yielded contributions from around the world in an exhibition that combines 46 photographs, text narratives and 150 vintage aprons. To accompany the aprons and narratives, award-winning photographer Kristina Loggia captured the storytellers’ portraits to amplify the effect of their powerful words.
The results produce a remarkable degree of variation, both in the manner of expression and the personal connection forged to one item of clothing. Visitors will enjoy the diversity of aprons, which all appear to bear semblance to the era in which they were made. Aprons composed of minimal adornment and color contrast those with intricate subjects, patterns and materials. The collection makes evident the fact that these articles are far more than functional. Instead, these aprons were often a canvas of individual expression and a mechanism by which the communication of one’s social, familial and personal identity could be projected.
Such connotations are not just eminent for those who wear aprons, of course. For many, aprons carry with them a flood of nostalgia: reminders of lost loved ones and cherished memories long passed.
While the apron often evokes sentimental responses, others see it as an outdated token of female oppression. Popular culture’s fondness for the apron frequently recalls an era in which the metrics for female success were measured by domestic productivity. Now, women have made impressive personal and economic strides across the globe. Even as the effort for gender equality continues, women now have the autonomy to choose what the garment means to them.
As an immediately identifiable symbol, the apron is a unique article in its ability to conjure such colossally familiar associations. This association is at once collective and individual, leading to larger societal connections to motherhood and domesticity on the one hand and distinct memories and activities from one’s own life on the other.
If you go
What: “Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections”
When: Through Dec. 11; Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.; closed major holidays
Where: Park City Museum, 528 Main, Park City
How much: $10 for adults; $8 for seniors, students and military; $5 for children ages 7-17; free for children 6 and under
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and currently works as a writer and curator.