We are so overwhelmed by these past weeks, months, this year that sometimes masquerades as a decade. We have gone to sleep fretting over every cough or sneeze, to the sound of helicopters circling, protesters chanting, sirens whirring. We keep our contact with the outside world to a minimum, masks on and at a distance. Then, in the midst of protests fueled by the horrific death of George Floyd and so many others, in the middle of a pandemic, I received a package of photos and a video of the latest work by book-artist Julie Shaw Lutts entitled The VOTE.
About a year ago I gave Julie a collection of white-leather gloves that had belonged to my and my sister Joan Mayer Teichman‘s late mother, hoping she might create something both beautiful and impactful. Julie’s book art typically integrates text with “things,” mostly found or acquired at flea markets, and are typically “bound” in boxes. They are, at heart, collections of ephemera with a textual root. In this case, my mother’s gloves spell out, in its entirety, the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, passed by the needed 36th state 100 years ago today.
I originally suggested that the piece Julie creates from my mother’s gloves have something to do with immigration. Both of my parents were Jews who fled Germany, my mother on the last boat out of Italy in 1940. She, my father, and the others who managed to escape, took their U.S. citizenship very seriously. And a year ago, immigration was very top-of-mind.
But immigration, per se, turned out to be a little far afield for Julie, whose ancestors may have been on the Mayflower (or not very long after). Instead, she asked if she could use the gloves to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Given how important voting was to both my parents, this felt comfortable. Little did Julie or I anticipate just how linked immigration and voting would be in the minds of those now contemplating The VOTE in a very different time.
I remember my mom putting on her gloves to go vote, which she may well have done, as Julie suggests in the video below. She and I certainly talked about the joy my mother took in her gloves and I DO remember going with her to vote — me little more than knee high standing next to her in the voting booth. She would show me how the levers worked, and sometimes let me push the ones she wanted.
I sent the photos and video about The VOTE initially to my family and friends. They triggered the kinds of memories and detailed responses an artist in the rarefied book-arts community only hopes for:
Those gloves told amazing stories, as did the hands that filled them. Wonderful memories of my Aunt Trude, my mom and so many others like them who understood the power of their vote. The power of the vote…yes, indeed.
Ever with their white gloves on, they managed to do it all. We can all learn (and we all did) from these strong women.
My mother never wore gloves — white or otherwise. I doubt she owned a pair. Her hands were too busy cooking, sewing, cleaning up after us all and then going to work at her little store on the Lower East Side. However, she was never too busy to vote. Her vote was probably the only thing she could truly call her own.
I am reminded of how my father said, “Now we vote!” after we obtained our American citizenship and after having had our right to vote taken away as Jews in Nazi Germany. I have never since skipped my right to vote, to a point of always voting even in every primary! I also recalled how in my first job as an 18-year-old going to college at night, I always wore gloves to go out anywhere. It was just the thing to do!
Add concerns over voter suppression and it all comes together — gloves, immigration, the fight against racism, and The VOTE — more desperately, I’m sure, than when Julie first contemplated what to do with Trude’s white-leather gloves just one year back.
Voting is so crucial to correcting the direction of our country. May The VOTE bring us hope on this anniversary and going forward.