Before I tell you about all the wonderful Mexican women I work with, let me set the stage by telling you a little about me. When I was young, I spent many weekends making clothing from scratch with my mother, her twin (my Aunt Shirley) and my cousin Ellen. We worked in teams cutting out pattern pieces, pinning, sewing, and pressing open the seams. By Sunday at least two of us had new blouses, dresses or new outfits for upcoming weddings or Bar Mitzvahs.
During my working years, I managed a medical billing company staffed by women, a truly pink collar job. In its heyday, I employed 11 women most of whom were not college graduates (including myself).
Now that I am retired from my day job, I finally have the time to be a full-time astract artist making the museum-scale work that I’ve always dreamed of. In order to create these massive wall murals and sculptures, I employ 5 Mexican studio assistants.
I was listening to a podcast earlier this year (while I was hiking across Scotland!) and an interview with Coach Dawn Staley on Fresh Air touched me to the core. Dawn is an American basketball Hall of Fame player, coach and three time Olympian. She is currently the head coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks. When she talked about the ‘sanctity of the team,’ I realized that I also feel that working with and empowering women is a central, deeply satisfying and spiritual part of my art practice.
With the exception of Sandra, my full-time assistant who is university trained, most of my studio assistants are Mexican women with grade school educations. It’s common for Mexican women to leave school early to help their large families with cooking and cleaning. Three of these women are in the same family: Alicia and Lourdes are sisters and Samantha is Alicia’s daughter-in-law.
We have all had to adjust to the cultural differences between us. I have introduced them to fine art, professionalism, consistent and compassionate employment and a myriad of new skills including screen-printing, machine sewing, weaving, painting, inventory maintenance, video and other art-related techniques.
They have rarely worked for a foreigner (extranjero in Spanish), gone to a museum or gallery or been praised for their work. I have learned to work to Banda and Mariarchi music and work with people who rarely plan for the future, which is appealing spiritually, but maddening when on a deadline.
We work together to make all the components required for my environmental artwork. In the process of making this art, we all enjoy a special serenity, safety and satisfaction.
I’m definitely back in my comfort zone making things with a community of smart and motivated women.