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Wendy Ketchum: Artist Statement
This series of woodcut monoprints was inspired by my love of history and 19c vintage photographs. Driving through New England cities I have always been intrigued by the long rows of massive brick buildings that once contained thousands of textile mill workers -- mostly women. The work is derived from old photos of mill workers, various textual ephemera, and fabric patterns of the mills’ woven fabric.
In the years between 1830 and 1860 tens of thousands of young single women were recruited to leave their family farms in northern New England to seek social and economic independence through employment in the textile mills. Despite the yoke of corporate paternalism, millwork put a new kind of power into women’s hands economically, providing them with the highest wages offered to female employees anywhere in the US at the time. Coming from farms where time was dependent on the seasons, the “mill girls,” as they were called, were faced with the tyranny of the bell and clock tower dictating every minute of their working day. The cotton that fed the mills was grown and processed by slave labor in the American South, and a portion of it was woven by mill girls into coarse cloth to clothe those very slaves creating a closed circle of labor. Many of the mill girls became ardent abolitionists, in addition to becoming labor reform activists fighting for better working conditions through walkouts, mass rallies, strikes, and the creation of one of the first labor reform leagues in the country.