Tegan Brozyna Roberts Vestige October 2 - 23rd 2022
During the early days of the Covid 19 Pandemic, I found myself thinking a great deal about my great grandmother, Emily Bulow. Like me, Emily was raising small children through a pandemic and very uncertain times. During the terrifying first wave in New York, and the subsequent lockdown, it occurred to me that during the Great Influenza of 1918 my grandmother, Marjorie, was the same age as my then four year old daughter, Sage. Finding these parallels made me want to learn more about Emily as a person as opposed to simply a line on my family tree.
A few years before the Great Influenza, my great grandparents lost their toddler daughter, Dorothy, to Leukemia. Emily was so deeply wounded by Dorothy’s death that she sold her wedding ring for a ticket back to England for almost a year before returning to her husband, Alfred, here. During the Great Influenza, my great grandparents must have been overwhelmed with the fear of losing another child, even if they hid it under a stiff, British lip. Their anxiety must have been unbearable especially when Alfred contracted the disease, and later suffered a stroke from it. The scars from this experience must have impacted them and their children throughout their lives.
Even before the Pandemic, one of the main inspirations for my art practice was a circular cushion cover made by my great grandmother. Emily was a seamstress in England before moving to the US. My great grandparents never had much money, but they always made use of what they had. Emily in particular showed a creativity and ingenuity that I admire. She transformed fabric from old garments, hats, scarves and other textiles into new clothes for her children, decorations for their home and even stuffed toys. These pieces reflect their origins even as they are dissected, reassembled and transformed into something new.
Although I don’t work directly with fabric, I’m drawn to this textile tradition and the notion that materials retain memory. As a fiber, paper holds the physical history of every mark, tear, stain and dent on its surface. By repurposing Sage’s drawings from the Lockdown and using the contours of her drawings along with the patterns in my great grandmother Emily’s piece, I’m referencing my own family’s experience while also adding our voice to Emily’s artistic lineage and story.
-Tegan Brozyna Roberts