Artists tell stories of protest, labor


“If the workers take a notion, we can stop all speeding trains. Every ship upon the ocean, we can tie with mighty chains. Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill, fleets and armies of all nations will, at our command, stand still.”

These words were written to be sung in protest by Joe Hill.

Hill was a union organizer, among other things, and was killed by mine owners who wanted to silence his songs.

The “artWORK” exhibit on display from Sept. 6 through Oct. 6 in the Crossman Gallery brings the stories of Joe Hill and many other workers into light.

Gallery Director Michael Flanagan said the show depicts two broad themes.

The first theme is a series of images that show workers in their industrial elements. They are depicted in a heroic manner, working with their hands in factories and mines.

The second theme illustrates the relationship between workers and their bosses.

Flanagan said another goal of the exhibit is to show workers in a “humanistic way.”

On one wall of the gallery, there are a series of pictures showing people at work and then those same people at home with their families.

“This is to portray the workers in the workplace as someone with a face and a life,” Flanagan said.

Aside from pictures, there are also several metal work pieces on display that depict the tools needed by workers in order to do their jobs.

Artist Stacey Lee Webber makes tools out of coins and silver filigree. She made two saws, one made out of nickels and dimes and the other out of pennies, and a jeweler’s tool made out of filigree.

Two quilts will also be hung in the gallery.

The first is titled “Portrait of a Textile Worker” by Terese Agnew. The quilt is composed of clothing labels that were sent to her by the thousands. She sorted them by value and color to create the image of a young woman in Bangladesh who is making clothing.

Agnew said it took an entire year to collect all of the clothing labels and two years to stitch them together.

The second quilt depicts an American Flag. It is also made of clothing labels and is titled “Look for the Union Label.” It was made by Rebecca Ratzlaff, an alumna of UW-Whitewater.

Ratzlaff said the quilt is made of foreign-made clothing that is stitched to represent where each state lies geographically.

“The border is made of photographs of child labor, migrant workers and unions,” Ratzlaff said. “There’s a lot of Madison in there.”

Another display within the exhibit shows actual signs that were used during the spring of 2011 protests in Madison.

However, Flanagan said the exhibit as a whole is not meant to be a harsh political opinion. It is meant to reflect a perspective in this country.

At the end of the show, there are pieces by Lecturer Michael Banning, of UW-Whitewater, and Morgan Craig that show decaying work sites.

Many of the pieces in the exhibit were sent from the individual artists, and others were collected from the Crossman Gallery’s permanent collection.

Pieces from Carlos Cortez, Schomer Lichtner, Luis Jiménez and Robert Von Neumann were pulled from the gallery’s collection.

However, Agnew’s work is originally on display in the Museum of Art and Design in New York City. The Crossman Gallery was given a donation from the Pieper Family Foundation in order to get the quilt to UW-Whitewater.

Flanagan said this is a good exhibit for students to see because it helps students reiterate why they are in college, and to ask “what now?” when it comes the future of the job market.

“Ask students why they are in college and they’ll respond that they want to get a good job,” Flanagan said. “Days of going to college for the ‘good of your soul’ are over, no one can afford that.”


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