“Erosion of Memory: Works by Anne Tait” was an exhibition of twenty-six pieces of art by Rhode Island based artist and professor Anne Tait held at the Doug Adams Gallery in 2015. The show’s theme centered on 19th century gravestone imagery and its relation to death, a topic Anne has long been interested in. Before turning to work full-time in the fine arts, Anne worked as a historical preservationist, specializing in cemeteries and the headstones within. This interest in the historical has manifested itself in Anne’s work with “old-fashioned” craft techniques, such as needlework and tondi, Italian round paintings popularized during the Renaissance period. Such artworks, Anne says, have been around since at least the late Medieval period and were traditionally used as fertility plates, given to couples about to be married as a good luck gift. One such famous example is Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo. Essentially, though, tondi are just one form among many, and this is how Anne sees them, revealing that it was largely due to the Industrial Revolution that the square form of paintings have become so commonplace. Anne says that she began using the circular form as test pieces during her graduate studies, and eventually grew to love their balance and symmetry, even feeling more “freed up” not having corners to her works. These circular pieces were her “petri dishes” of experimentation, mimicking the cell culturing dishes not only in their circular shape but also in the biomorphic changes Anne applied to traditional artistic process, playing on the idea of fertility.
Since her exhibition at the Doug Adams Gallery, Anne took part in an artist residency at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania in Spring of 2017. This two-week long residency afforded her the opportunity to not only get away from home and isolate herself to her art but gave her access to a place that has to contend with memory in a variety of ways. The art she completed during this time was informed by the question of how much the three day Battle of Gettysburg impacted the landscape, and took the form of a series of round, backlit embroidered pieces. Anne’s primary interest in personal efforts that individual people made to remember their dead, and feels that the most can be learned from visiting graveyards and looking at the commemorative materials chosen by those left behind. This investigative work focuses especially on the working class and how the “common people” remembered their dead. During her preservation days she discovered that the few images seen cropping up again and again on headstones, such as dismembered hands or broken roses, were the result of the Victorian equivalent of clip art. With the industrialization of print, “specimen books” came into use, providing type for businesses, including headstone manufacturers.
When asked in a recent interview about what she might say to a fine arts major with little interest in the Civil War to recommend the Gettysburg National Park, Anne brings up the recent renewed interest in making. This return to very old fashioned craft-based techniques, such as embroidery, she says, is a perfect opportunity to see beyond the typical narrative of Gettysburg as merely three days of battle. She is interested in what happened to the people of this small town 150 years later, how does a community recover from such an event. For Anne, the cemetery gives a broader picture of before, during and after the battle, showing that not everyone died but rather that the community continued and prospered. She sees a lot of different avenues of benefit to coming to the beautiful landscape of Gettysburg, with its long tradition of painting and photography, and one of them is the potential to learn more about the arts and crafts movement. This itself was brought about largely in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and Anne sees the such craft as gaining more traction nowadays, in a modernized, internet-friendly form, as can been seen in the advent of websites such as Craftsy and Etsy. If you’d like to hear more about Anne’s experiences during her artist residency, listen to the full interview online at Seminary Explores, where Anne talks about her family connection to Pennsylvania and more.
Anne continues to teach printmaking and painting in the Visual Arts Program at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. She is also completing her studies at the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), at the Hampton Court Palace in London. These courses, teaching one of the oldest craft techniques, take place over the summer and have allowed Anne to learn the visually stunning craft of goldwork. In 2016, she completed this intricate goldwork piece.
Thank you, Anne, for keeping us updated with your work!
by Lydia Webster