The American Textile History Museum is delighted to present MILL WORKS: Inventing Lowell and Flowers in the Factory, two very special exhibitions transporting visitors into the captivating world of 19th-century New England.
Curated by ATHM Director of Interpretation David Unger, these are two dramatically different exhibits with a common theme of New England’s textile mills. Inventing Lowell is a preview of a absorbing video series on the founding of Lowell, produced by ATHM and Lowell Telecommunications Corp. for the 2015 “Places of Invention” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Flowers in the Factory is an innovative, large-scale, fabric art installation bringing historic photographs from the ATHM collection to life through ethereal, translucent silk-screened fabric panels by artist Deborah Baronas. Together, they create an experience not to be missed.
See the video below about Flowers in the Factory by exhibiting artist Deborah Baronas. Her portfolio on the exhibit can be viewed here.
Panoramic view of Flowers in the Factory.
Panoramic view of Inventing Lowell.
Flowers in the Factory
February 21 – June 22, 2014
This compelling exhibit transports visitors to the world of 19th-century textile workers, whose bleak existence was brightened by the flowers they placed in the factory windows to bring a glimmer of life into the harsh reality of the industrial mills.
Winding through large-scale, translucent scrims by artist Deborah Baronas, visitors will experience a sensuous, ethereal and contemplative quality to the patterns, shadows, rhythms and movement that tell the story of Flowers in the Factory. The layers of materials shift and move, providing a sense of motion and animation to the faces, machines and street scenes of a New England mill town.
Baronas, an artist who spent many years working in the textile industry, has documented the cultural histories and lives of textile mill workers and mill sites through paintings, textiles, archival materials and installations. With fabric as her medium, Baronas uses textiles to tell the textile story, celebrating the materiality of the materials.
“What’s interesting to me is how people, especially laborers, transform a place by their work,” the artist said. “Transparency in my work enables me to reduce representational themes into shapes and color to tell a story. Suddenly you have to look beyond the layers to see what is really happening, much like history itself.”
After seeing Baronas’ acclaimed “Mill Project” installation, Unger contacted her about bringing to life some of the historical photographs from the ATHM collection. Poring through thousands of photographs of the New England mills, the images that the two found most riveting were those of the mill workers. Baronas’s art involved painstakingly deconstructing these images, isolating individuals to paint and reproduce on the scrims as life-size images.
“When we see these images of these factory workers, we get a larger sense of the lives and hopes and dreams inside this industrial system—lives with value beyond just their hands that operate the machines,” said Unger, who collaborated with Baronas on the installation. “Our goal with this exhibit is to bring life to these pictures to tell the story of the experience and life in the mills.”
February 21 – June 22, 2014
When the 19th-century invention of the power loom led to America’s first textile mills, it created the need for another invention: the factory town. As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, the city of Lowell itself was an invention, a planned manufacturing center for textiles along the rapids of the Merrimack River.
“Inventing Lowell celebrates the innovation, creativity and human spirit of those urban pioneers as they invented the modern city,” said Dave Unger. “Whether Museum visitors are from Lowell or visiting for the first time, they will be transported to a new place, experiencing Lowell through this language and lens of invention.”
Lowell was the country’s first example of industrial urbanism, a densely populated area with five large factories, employing thousands of workers. Needing a city to provide the housing, services and infrastructure to support them, the city’s planners were determined to avoid the class differentiation, urban vice and degrading conditions associated with the British mills such as those in Manchester, England.
Lowell’s story as an invention does not stop with the city’s incorporation in 1836. It is a city that has continued to invent and re-invent itself in response to economic fluctuations.
“Just as Lowell was held up as a model in building industry, it is today held up as a model of a post-industrial city,” Unger said. “Lowell continues to redefine itself, embracing its history, engaging in adaptive reuse of its former textile mill buildings, and creating a vibrant downtown that embraces its historical identity. Inventing Lowell tells that story of a city reinventing itself to adapt and survive in a changing world.”
This program is presented with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation as part of the Places of Invention Affiliates Project, made possible thanks to a generous grant from the National Science Foundation.