Embroidering Medicine, Re-imagining Embroidery

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence researching the history of sutures and ligatures.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This past September, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Embroidering Medicine,” which explored the relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender.

Historically, needlework has been used to enforce stereotypes of women as docile, obedient, and incapable of creative or original thought.  Embroidery as a skill and a decorative medium was a required part of a woman’s education for centuries.  Across different periods of time, embroidery techniques (stump work, black work, etc.) and themes (religious, botany, etc.) in vogue provided only very narrow focus for creative outlets for women.  From the 16th century onwards, embroidery publications encouraged the use of pre-drawn patterns.  Images generally included geometric stitch motifs, flowers, plants, and animals. Many women, including Mary Queen of Scots translated images from books such as the Icones Animalium (1560) and La Nature et Diversité des Poissoins (1555).[1]

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Workshop participants discuss their work.

The cultural pressure to recreate existing patterns and images has been the basis of the argument that a craft such as embroidery is inherently unoriginal. In the 16th century and later, many people considered women incapable of original creative thought, proved by the adherence of women to unimaginative media such as embroidery.

As the Academy’s Artist-in-Residence, I wanted to facilitate an embroidery workshop that connected the histories of women, medicine, and embroidery. In my own work I have done this by looking at the broad scope of health and medical literature available at the Academy Library, exploring feminist histories of medicine and of needlework, and using drawing and needlework to identify and describe intersections of medical and textile arts. In the workshop I encouraged participants to re-imagine the tradition of embroidery pattern translation by using historical medical imagery mostly created by male artists.

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Dental anatomy after an image by John Hunter by Stephanie Russell.

The workshop was a great way to explore history on one’s own terms. Cultural forces limiting women’s economic and artistic independence have been at work for centuries in Europe and the United States. The establishment and regulation of craft and medical guilds in Medieval Europe began the limitation of women from the professional practices of medicine and needlework.[2] While working with materials from the historical collection, the status of women as medical professionals during different periods was a topic of conversation as we stitched our embroidery.

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An embroidery in progress by Abby Tannenbaum, stitched from an image in the Hortus Sanitatis.

Our group (coincidentally all women) explored the library images, learned about the history of medicine, examined books about home economics and sciences, found images to work with that were interesting or personally relevant, explored historical descriptions of medical needlework (i.e. suturing the body), and practiced embroidery stitches. The products of this workshop embody the stitcher’s process and creative experimentation combining the history of medicine with the histories of feminism and the decorative art of embroidery.

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Kriota Willberg (third from left) and embroidery participants in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

There is a lot of creativity that can go in to re-imagining a pre-existing image. In addition to working with line, filling, and color, embroidery can add texture and depth through its use of various types of threads and yarns. The embroiderer studies the image she is recreating. Is it educational? Entertaining? Are certain anatomical structures or pathological states emphasized? The embroiderer interprets the original artist’s intentions, determines her own interests in the image, and re-works the image using color, texture, stitch variety, and fabric, to create a new work. To practice basic stitches, an embroiderer might choose to follow an original pattern closely or experiment and make “mistakes,” as one might when drawing in a sketchbook.

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Anatomized genitalia from an anatomy book by Adriaan van de Spiegel (aka Spiegalius) and Giulio Cesare Casseri (aka Casserius) published in the 17th century. Stitched by Susan Shaw.

Embroidery is becoming a popular medium again and still provokes associations with hominess and winsome imagery. I was delighted to see workshop embroiderers re-imaging pictures of dental anatomy and dissected genitalia into images that are simultaneously comforting and disturbing. The embroiderers in this workshop are taking needlework in new and exciting directions!

Endnotes:
[1] Swain, Margaret. The Needlework or Mary Queen of Scots. New York, London: Man Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc., 1973.
[2] I recommend reading The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker and Women and the Practice of Medical Care in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800 by Leigh Ann Whaley. Reading these books simultaneously has been a revelatory experience!

Who Practices “Visualizing Anatomy”?

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This May, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy,” which utilized live models as well as anatomical illustrations from the New York Academy of Medicine’s library. You can read more about Kriota’s work HERE.

Class

The class gets oriented before drawing practice.

The Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy workshop was held at the Academy Tuesday evenings in June.  Once again I was impressed by the participants willingness to practice looking underneath our models’ skin to draw the deep anatomical structures that give our bodies form.

iPad

Participants draw using their preferred medium, in this case, paper or an iPad.

Who benefits from this kind of drawing practice? Practically everyone. Trained artists sharpen their skills, and those new to art and drawing learn fundamental principles of anatomy that lay the foundation for drawing the human figure.

Debbie Rabina, who is new to art, took the workshop last year.  Since then she has kept a regular drawing practice and she occasionally incorporates anatomy into her work.

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Debbie Rabina’s drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

Ellen Zaraoff is a photographer who has just started drawing. Until taking the classes this year she had been focusing on drawing portraits in charcoal.  She took the workshop to get an introduction to anatomy, structure, and proportion.

Sarah Wukoson has a BA in art, and works in medical research. She took the workshop this year because she’s interested in the intersection of art and medicine as well as “the interplay of different modes of understanding the body.”

Wukoson

Sarah Wukoson’s 2017 in-class sketches and exercises.

Jim Doolley is a “life-long art lover who decided a couple years ago to take a stab at producing, not just consuming.” His focus is drawing and painting. He took this class to improve his draftsmanship.

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Jim Dooley’s 2017 homework.

Susan Shaw is an artist.  She says, “I took the class (last year) because I found I was thinking 2 dimensionally when I was drawing and the figures seemed to have no life… I now think about how the body functions when I draw and it makes gesture and weighting much easier.”

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Susan Shaw’s figure drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

The variety of participants: artists, illustrators, cartoonists and enthusiastic beginners – all interested in anatomy and the Library’s historical collection make this workshop one of my favorites to teach.

This September 14-October 5, Kriota is offering an “Embroidering Medicine Workshop,” which will take place at the Academy.  This four-week workshop explores The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s historical collections, examining relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender. Learn more and register HERE.

 

Registration Open for Vesalius 500 Workshops

Registration is now open for our hands-on art and anatomy workshops, presented as part of our Vesalius 500 celebrations on October 18, 2014. Create your own articulated anatomical figure or “exquisite corpse” at the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory; learn Renaissance drawing techniques with medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer; or explore the anatomy and art of the hand with physical anthropologist Sam Dunlap.

Spaces are strictly limited so register soon. Registration at one of the workshops includes free entry to the Festival. You can register for the Festival (without workshop attendance) here.

From the Cradle to the Grave: Session One: The Cradle

Moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Dr. K. Shibata's Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom, or the Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom.

Moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Dr. K. Shibata’s Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom (Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom).

Working with NYAM’s conservation team, celebrate Vesalius’s life with a hands-on workshop producing your own articulated anatomical figures in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Time: 11am-1pm
Cost: $55
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 12
Register here

During the morning’s Cradle workshop, we will construct paper facsimiles of a moveable baby and female pelvis from one of NYAM’s 19th century obstetrics texts, Geburtschülfliche Taschen-Phantom (or the Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom). The book was written by Dr. K. Shibata, a Japanese author studying in Germany, and was published first in German before being translated into English and Japanese.

Participants will have time to make at least one paper baby and pelvis, which can be produced as paper dolls or magnets.

From the Cradle to the Grave: Session Two: The Grave

An exquisite corpse made by staff of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

An exquisite corpse made by staff of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Working with our conservation team, celebrate Vesalius’s life with a hands-on workshop producing your own “exquisite corpse” in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory.

Time: 2:30pm-4:30pm
Cost: $55
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 12
Register here

During the afternoon’s Grave workshop, we focus on producing a Vesalian-themed exquisite (or rotating) corpse. Loosely based on the surrealist parlor game in which a picture was collectively created by assembling unrelated images, this workshop will employ a special, rotating binding structure and mix-matched facsimile images from NYAM’s rare book collections to allow students to create their own unique, moveable pieces of art.

Renaissance Illustration Techniques Workshop with Marie Dauenheimer, Medical Illustrator

Students at medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer's workshop at last fall's Festival.

Students at medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer’s workshop at last fall’s Festival.

Time: 10am-1pm
Cost: $85
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 15
Register here

Artists and anatomists passionate about unlocking the mysteries of the human body drove anatomical investigation during the Renaissance. Anatomical illustrations of startling power vividly described and represented the inner workings of the human form. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks were among the most magnificent, merging scientific investigation and beautifully observed drawing.

Students will have the opportunity to learn and apply the techniques used by Renaissance artists to illustrate anatomical specimens. Using dip and technical pens, various inks and prepared paper students will investigate, discover, and draw osteology, models, and dissected specimens from various views creating an anatomical plate.

Understanding the Hand, physical anthropology workshop with Sam Dunlap, Ph.D.

Dr Sam Dunlop leading a workshop at last year's Festival.

Dr Sam Dunlop leading a workshop at last year’s Festival.

Time: 2:30pm-5:30pm
Cost: $75
Includes: All materials, and free entry to the Festival.
Maximum participants: 15
Register here

The hand as an expression of the mind and personality is second only to the face in the Renaissance tradition of dissection and illustration that continues to inform both art and science. Basic anatomical dissection, illustration, and knowledge continue to be fundamental in many fields from evolutionary biology to surgery, medical training, and forensic science. This workshop will offer participants the opportunity to explore the human hand and its anatomy, which will be demonstrated with at least three dissections.  Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) and orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) forelimbs will be available along with other comparative skeletal material. We will discuss hand evolution, embryology, and anatomy, and the artistic importance of the hand since its appearance in the upper palaeolithic cave art. We will also analyze the hand illustrations of da Vinci, Vesalius, Rembrandt, and artists up to and including the abstract expressionists.