Chest of Drawings

On a visit to the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery, I saw a series of prints created by two artists by feeding clothing, paper, and color through a press. Prints of life-size, old-fashioned children’s clothes hang by wooden clothespins on a thick cord stretched along two gallery walls.

The garments include a baby dress embellished with real buttons on the printed paper, and pantaloons and little shirt with the words “Colors of Spring” stenciled on the front. In a print of shirts with collars and pockets, the powdery, pastel colors darken along stitching at edges and seams. A lacy apron is the only trace of a grown-up.

It’s art and it’s making a record. Like still lifes, which some artists call visual diaries, such a piece poses questions about why an artist would choose these particular objects and invites connections to the viewer’s experience.

In addition to pure pleasure from the beauty of the little garments and the cleverness of the installation, it brought to mind the little drawings made when I contemplated emptying the house where we lived for more than 30 years.

A rickety chest of drawers in the basement in Anchorage turned out harder to deal with than boxes of tax returns and a warehouse-sized collection of old skis and camping gear. The chest contained favorite kids’ clothes – treasures, but derelict and worn and saved only out of love. I’d open the drawers and hesitate – clothes preserved for decades – but surely beyond use for modern babies.

Moving means you have to say goodbye to things, but drawing them meant I could bring them along. Thirty little drawings stand for drawers full of baby and childhood stories – both our family and another. Four different children wore these clothes in their time. When new (it being the 70s), embroidery and patches and hand painting decorated them. Traces of those embellishments remain – and memories. I’d bring a few upstairs and draw when I could, hanging them on my workroom wall in rows.

I never manage to convey my pleasure in writing and drawing; it’s much less about discipline and more about joy. It seems a miraculous part of being human to make ink represent objects with words or shapes.

These aren’t elegant christening gowns and antique bonnets, but well-worn jammies with shredded sleeves, the vest from a three-year old obsession with a miniature three-piece suit, and teensy T-shirts painted to welcome a newborn. I include here just a few from a chestful – for the record…

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