A group known as the Memphis Knit Mafia rallied last month to weave a 21st-Century response to the Brooks’ Angels & Tomboys exhibition around the walkways, architectural elements, and pedestals punctuating the Museum’s outdoor plaza.
From MKM’s call to action, fellow Memphian knitters came forth; trafficking tote bag after tote bag chock-a-block vibrant swatches of knit work onto the grounds. The collaboration transformed, unseating any remnants of color from the Brooks’ chalk festival of the day before. It seems we had staged a weekend of innocuous park graffiti.
But while the chalk festival was guileless fun, knit bombing offers a bit more texture; especially if read alongside Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art, on view at the Brooks through Mother’s Day. The brainchild of Newark Museum curator Holly Pyne Connor is a manifold trove to its theme: Masterworks to cross stitch, genre painting to portraiture come together to represent shifting notions of girlhood felt throughout the 19th-Century – while America was coming of age itself. It never settles on an archetype, but makes one thing clear: By mid-century, girlhood had gone from a non-thing to something keenly considered. The conversation is certainly ongoing today.
If we exact the common thread (pun seemingly unavoidable) of women’s work, MKM’s outdoor installation harkens back to some of the earliest works in the exhibition: Two cross stitch samplers made by adolescent girls in 1836 and 1844. But whereas this hobby was enforced to ready girls for domesticity, the Memphis Knit Mafia didn’t have to practice sewing throughout adolescence to ensure they would be good mothers. And this is why in the 21st Century, knitting can be fun. And we still have good mothers.