Self Portrait revisited

Usually, my 2007 embroidered piece, Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion is on display in its semi-permanent home at the Woods Hole Library.  But this fall, it’s been on view at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA, as part of my exhibit, Liberty and Justice: The Satrical Art of Salley Mavor, which runs through Dec. 30, 2018.

Self Portrait: a personal history of fashion, 2007

It’s been a while since Self Portrait was featured in my very first blog post in 2009, so I thought I’d revisit it today. In the exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum, the piece hangs on a wall between two galleries, which hold different portions of the exhibit. It was the museum’s idea to show earlier work from “the innocent years” in one space, as a point of reference, while across the hall is a separate room featuring my recent foray into political satire. There are enlarged photographs of the Wee Folk Players, the animated 14 minute film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free and a display case full of the real dolls, props and scenery from the film.

Self Portrait detail

An old acquaintance wrote to tell me that she brought three generations of her family to see the show in Lowell during Thanksgiving weekend. She found out about the exhibit through an article in the Boston Globe about its abrupt cancellation at another venue, due to its political content. She said they enjoyed seeing the new political stuff as well as the earlier work, but she especially wanted me to know that her 4 year old granddaughter was so taken with my self portrait that they couldn’t tear her away. For little Emma, seeing the progression of dolls opened up the concept of growing up, which led to her asking lots of questions. I love hearing accounts like this, because it reaffirms my intention to make art for all ages, whether it’s book illustration, stand alone embroidered pieces or political satire. 

This piece seems to resonate with a lot of people whose lives parallel the same time period. I can’t tell you how many women remark that they had an alpaca poncho, too! As well as clothing memories, we all have a personal soundtrack that goes with different times in our lives. This video is a nostalgic tour through fashion and music that my husband Rob and I put together. At the end, there’s a list of the music.

Self-Portrait detail, 2007

I made the piece for a self-portrait themed invitational exhibition in 2007. It shows a spiral of dolls, one for each year, starting with my birth date in the center. Each figure is dressed in an outfit I would have worn that year, taken from memories, family photos or imagination. The figures range from 1 in. to 3 1/2 in. and are variations of the wee folk and fairy dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

Self-Portrait detail

Since I made many of my own clothes, I remember the fabrics and clothing styles. They are recreated here with smaller scale fabric and embroidered wool felt. My husband, Rob, appears the year we were married and my sons, Peter and Ian, are included through the years when they were little and physically connected to me. The tatting around the outside of the circle was made over 100 years ago by my late grandmother, Louise Salley Hartwell. The wool felt spiral in color gradation is mounted on upholstery fabric, which I embellished with multicolored french knots.

I hope that you enjoyed this trip down memory lane! You can see the Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion in the Woods hole Public Library, where the original bas-relief embroidery is on semi-permanent loan. Posters are also available in my Etsy Shop here.

Poster – Self Portrait

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11 thoughts on “Self Portrait revisited

  1. This should be an advertisement to sell your Self Portrait Poster – as a Christmas gift from a grandmother for grandchildren! or a Christmas gift for a grandmother of our generation to introduce her grandchildren to her own life.
    I am going to order at least two … (I have one already for myself)

  2. Oh dear! I went to your shop to order two more Self Portrait posters, and find there are none for sale any more! It was SUCH a good idea for at least two friends for Christmas (and ever after)… Maybe you could possibly get more made for me to give as birthday presents!

  3. I was fortunate to view your exhibits in Lowell and Cotuit recently. I highly recommend seeing your work in person. The stitching is wonderful and there is such imagination in all of the work. My husband hadn’t seen Liberty and Justice and he marveled at the work you and your husband did to bring it to life.
    Many thanks!

  4. Salley, this is wonderful. I’ve seen this piece in person a couple of times now, and been so impressed with the concept and the handwork, but somehow, set to music, it went deeper. I felt like I was living it – even though I am a few years older than you. I found tears rolling down my cheeks. I think they started with the appearance of your babes. And continued with the greying of your hair. Fortunately, I see that you are getting better as time goes by! I only hope I am too… Once again, I am inspired by your deep commitment to your work. The “innocent years” were not devoid of content in the least. Thank you for what you do, shining a light on “women’s work”. Elizabeth Stubbs

  5. ❤️ your magnum opus!
    ❤️ your nimble fingers!
    ❤️ your attention to detail!
    ❤️ the appearance of grey in your hair!
    Thank you for sharing your gifts.

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