Great contributions continue to come in for the Community Embroidery Project. See previous squares here and here.


More squares completed for the Community Embroidery Project. View the first group of contributions here.

Artist Chris Walla’s ongoing Hanky Project, featured in Handmade Meaning, is a series of colorful cotton bandannas embroidered with silhouettes of male figures borrowed from pin-up images. The bandannas reference the “hanky code” used by many gay men in the 1970s and 80s as a non-verbal means to communicate sexual preferences. The use of embroidery, a craft historically associated with women, is central to the work. As Walla puts it, “I wanted the ‘making’ of these pieces to refer to the hand-made needlepoint and embroidery practiced by women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for their hope chests.”

Chris Walla, Hanky Project (detail), 2006.

Artist Statement
Our desire to communicate with others, the yearning to be understood, and the ambiguity of what lies between is the current focus of my work.  How we speak, hear, and assimilate both visual information and language is often the genesis of many of my pieces.

I am dyslexic. At times written language has been nothing but abstract.  This experience had a profound impact on me, and it is why I chose to be an artist.  Forms and objects have always served as ways for me to communicate without written and verbal language. What is of primary interest to me as an artist now is the disjuncture between the material and the abstract.  How do we perceive language when it becomes form? How do space and the rendering of that form impact our understanding of the meaning of that language?

Discourse and debate are fundamental to the progression of our ideas as a society. If we do not engage in a dialogue we are left only with unrealized potential.  The unspoken is an impotent promise that provokes no intellectual or emotional evolution. This is why I often choose representations of text or singular words rather than actual language; these representations tend to be neutral or empty. My approach to making objects is wide and varied.  I have employed embroidery to wood fabrication to metalwork in my pieces.  What is most important to me is that the material choices serve the concept.

My goal for my work is for it to exist in an ambiguous space between social critique and formal aesthetics allowing for open interpretation, and, because it occupies the terrain of the familiar, a more subversive reading.

–Chris Walla

Chris Walla, Hanky Project, 2006.

Walla received his MFA in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Minnesota. See more of his work at

I believe that making things of beauty connects us, gives us joy and satisfaction and helps us carve out our place in the universe.  In a past world in which hard work, farming and childrearing consumed many women’s lives, their needles and spindles were weapons in their quest for their own identity.  Their creations are acts of love that transcend ephemeral and corporal existence.  These women created beauty and usefulness with materials at hand and in so doing, left us wonderful legacies of ingenuity, insightfulness and connectedness to a larger elusive universe. Our attention to their work allows us occasional glimpses of that universe and teaches that creating beauty offers the possibility of transcendence.

That is why I believe they did what they did.  That is why I do what I do.  Nothing has ever given me greater pleasure and I hope that present and future generations will find that same connectedness I discovered.  Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Victorian and Contemporary Culture is a very exciting exploration of these past and present connections to women’s lives and it will help pass an important torch to the next generation of makers and appreciators.

–Mary Dickey


Mary Dickey, Box for my Ashes, 2002.

Mary Dickey is an artist based in Sauk City, Wisconsin. View more of her sculpture, assemblage, shellwork and jewelry on her website.

Artists and makers were on hand to demonstrate their crafts. Graduate student Malka Salomon embroiders a quilt square for the Community Embroidery Project.

Graduate student Becca Keyel demonstrates spinning on her "hitchhiker" spinning wheel.

Artist --and Wisconsin Academy Fellow--Anne Kingsbury demonstrating beadwork.

Artist Mary Dickey (r) demonstrated shellwork. At left is Ann Smart Martin of the Art Hisotry Department at UW-Madison, one of the show's co-curators.

James Watrous Gallery director Martha Glowacki with curator and filmmaker Faythe Levine, who was a consultant for the contemporary craft/DIY side of the show.

Artist Susan White performing her work "Idle Hands."

The gallery was packed for much of the evening.

More opening night photos are available on the Wisconsin Academy’s Facebook page.

A new article from Lindsay Christians for 77 Square provides a nice overview of Handmade Meaning. “Interior life in the public eye: ‘Handmade Meaning’ explores the domestic arts” highlights a number of works in the exhibit and features quotes from show organizers Martha Glowacki, Ann Smart Martin, and Emily Pfotenhauer.

Link: Article via 77 Square/The Capital Times.

The first few squares for the Community Embroidery Project are completed. We’ll scan the embroidered squares and post them here as more are returned to the gallery.

Interested in embroidering a square? More info about how to participate is here.

Milwaukee artist Cassandra Smith created a new work for Handmade Meaning, combining gilded antlers with decorative patterns painted directly on the gallery wall.


Cassandra’s website

Cassandra’s blog

Fine Line Magazine

An online feature from UW-Madison’s Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection offers a closer look at 19th century fancywork wreaths made from hair. These wreaths are some of the most visually striking examples of Victorian-era fancywork. While modern audiences might find the use of hair distasteful, hairwork was once a highly-valued representation of the maker’s close connections to the friends and family members whose hair she collected and displayed in her parlor.

Hair Wreaths: Fancywork from the Victorian Era” includes two interpretive essays as well as a link to 16 related objects in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection’s public database.

Watrous Gallery staff and volunteers have been hard at work all week putting the final touches on the exhibit installation in preparation for Friday’s opening.

Martha Glowacki and Jody Clowes align a lace doily on loan from the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society.

Madison artist Susan Johnson White carefully adjusts her work.

Community embroidery project kits ready for assembly.

The gallery's opening wall juxtaposes an assemblage by Sauk City artist Mary Dickey with a hair wreath on loan from the Mayville Historical Society.

Handmade Meaning

An exhibition investigating the connections between Victorian women's fancywork and contemporary Wisconsin craft. At the James Watrous Gallery, Madison, Wisconsin, December 17, 2010-February 6, 2011.