Poise, Power and Protocol: An American Allegory in Forty-Four Scenes
In this series I perform a ritualized role-play. Inspired by the American tradition of historical re-enactment and its blend of reverence and play, I adorn life-sized paper dolls with personal effects borrowed from each of the First Ladies. Pins hold the dresses, objects, and backdrops in place and permit their return to autonomous, scattered pieces. Arms hang loose, gently twisting. Dresses billow and spill onto the gallery floor.
These items, taken from portrait reproductions, weave together narratives. I stand in Ellen Wilson’s study wearing Betty Ford’s tunic and Nancy Reagan’s bob. I take a flower from Lucretia Garfield and pin it in Lucy Hayes’ hair. Placing myself in successive re-imaginings, I manipulate history’s inconstancy and exploit the mutability of memory.
As I assume my first pose, I remember Martha Washington. I remember her as an emblem of power, the wealth that enabled George Washington’s presidency and the authority over his property. And I remember her as a widow, fearful that the slaves she kept in bondage would kill her. These are two of an endless number of histories. And there’s truth in all of them.
*Thank you to Evan Winter who photographed the "dolls." Thank you also to the kind and helpful staff at the Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery, the White House and the New York Public Library for their invaluable assistance.