4/4/2013 - In a way, Abigail Anne Newbold’s “Crafting Settlement” portrays the sort of lifestyle she yearned for as a child.
While installing her work at the Currier Museum of Art a couple of weeks ago, she recalled her child-self describing to a relative what she wanted to do when she grew up.
“I didn’t say the word ‘hermit,’ but essentially, I said that I wanted to be an artist and live in a shack by the ocean with a dog. That was the extent of my vision for the future,” Newbold said, chuckling. “There was a certain romance thinking that I could live by myself and could live as strangely or as unconventionally as I wanted to.”
This childhood plan didn’t come true quite the way she had envisioned it at the time — the artist lives Somerville, Mass., with her boyfriend and her dog — but her latest project, on view at the Currier now through July 14, exemplifies these ideals.
Newbold’s collection comprises what she describes as a “survival line” of handmade and modified found objects, which includes a timber-frame dwelling structure, inspired by old New England farms; elegantly-crafted tools of wood and metal (including a one-of-a-kind Lightning Lice Killing Machine); textile garments; and a trendy yellow covered wagon pulled by a bicycle. Throw in a fashionable cropped fur jacket and sleeping pad, a hand pumped-powered fire hose and an old Shaker chair with a modern, red nylon seat and back, and you get the gist of Newbold’s installation.
Domesticity, self-sufficiency, artisanal production and nomadism are the themes that thread these items together in the Scheier Gallery.
“The tools and the wagon signify the ability to be mobile and self-sufficient in crafting the kind of lifestyle you can live in,” Newbold explained.
On the other hand, the timber-frame dwelling, sturdy but easily movable, represents a temporary home.
This installation is part of the museum’s Contemporary Connections series, which features new work by early- and mid-career artists from New England.
“We invite artists who have something to contribute to our galleries. It’s an invitation for them to create new artwork for the museum,” said assistant curator Nina Gara Bozicnik, who helped organize this installation. “One of the main motivations in inviting artists like Abby is to create a dialogue about craft histories and how those histories are expanded upon in new and different ways.”
She’s particularly excited to see the finished dwelling structure, created specifically for this venue. The structure is modeled after old historic farmhouses. Traditionally, Newbold explained, a homestead would start with a traditional house structure. Then, as the family grew, a little house would be built and attached to it.
“From there, there could be what’s called an ‘L,’ or a breezeway, and then, sometimes, a backhouse,” Newbold said.
Newbold used this farm history in building the timber-frame unit; it appears to split into three sections, as though it had been through two additions. Hexagonal shapes are incorporated in structure design and speckled throughout the installation, including in the traditional quilted “skins” that line the walls. This structure captures two of Newbold’s primary artistic interests: fiber arts and industrial design.
You’ll also notice the color. Barns are typically red, she explained; they’re easily visible from a distance or in a storm. Her own barn will also be a color that you can see through a storm far away, but it too strays from traditional: it’ll be fluorescent orange. Her incentive in using these bright, non-traditional colors is emphasizing that history doesn’t have to be this “dry, dusty old thing,” she said. Traditional quilting can consist of bright yellows and basketball oranges.
“I’m really interested in advocating the traditional textile processes in a modern way. One thing I’m trying to do is recreate these in a modern sensibility,” she said.
Most of the items that make up the installation, particularly those larger items, are original pieces by Newbold, though some of them are also restored, collected from years of scavenging at flea markets, yard sales and tag sales.
Her own personal experiences moved her to use these ideas, including a month-long wilderness leadership camp she joined in high school.
“That was my first experience in making a home for myself,” she said, noting that an artists’ residency near an Amish community guided her as well. “Being near the Amish community reminded me of these [backpacking] experiences. There’s a simplicity to the way that community lived, with a very direct relationship in the land and the materials they obtained. By and large, they’re producing those materials and using them,” she said.
“I’m really interested in people understanding that making things for themselves is attainable. It’s not so mysterious,” she said. “This is also about crafting my vision of my own sacred space, my mind’s eye of the way I want to live as an individual. I’d like people to take initiative in voicing their own style and manifesting it not just in what they wear, but how they choose a lifestyle.