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King Creativity at Southwestern

Clothes Of Memory: a Series of Paintings by Rebekah Thedford

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by: Rebekeh Thedford
Major: art

Clothes of Memory
A Series of Paintings by
Rebekah Thedford
Sarofim School of Fine Arts Gallery
April 22-26, 2002

In my proposal for the King Creativity Fund I described a painting that I had created from a dress I used to wear.   I then proposed to begin a project that would enable me to continue my work under a similar theme with many items of clothing from family members and from my own childhood.  With departmental approval this idea became an honors project in painting that included a theoretical writing component under the guidance of Dr. Kim Smith.  The funding from the King Creativity Fund has provided me with the monetary means to create a total of eleven large paintings over the past eight months, under the supervision of Professor Victoria Varner.  

The exhibition, Clothes of Memory, is comprised of my recent series of paintings that explore the intersections of the history of abstract art of the twentieth century, my personal family history, the development of memory and the act of memory retrieval. To create the twelve paintings in the series, I chose twelve pieces of clothing that are important in my life as the basis for my development of each image.  Each piece of clothing represents a story and holds special meaning for me.  The clothing includes: my ruined dress, my childhood gymnastics leotard, my sister’s and my childhood halter top, my father’s corduroy shirt, my Hypercolor T-shirt, my mother’s scarf, my great grandfather’s bathrobe, my grandmother’s doll dress, my other grandmother’s skirt, my mother’s wedding dress, my sister’s childhood dress and a camouflage shirt that my whole family shared.  Each of the twelve paintings represents many artistic, familial and pedagogical influences, which together influence each distinct image formed on the canvas.  Though actually influenced by many movements during the twentieth century, my work is most easily associated with the Pattern and Decoration Movement in art during the 1970’s because of the use of fabric as the obvious source of imagery.  The large, abstract nature of my work is also reminiscent of the art of early twentieth century painters such as Wassily Kandinsky.  However, my work is distinct in its conceptual basis, placing emphasis on the development and influence of my personal memories, as opposed to the often-expressed political intent of the Pattern and Decoration artists or the artistic and social implications of the early abstractionists. Each piece of clothing represents a memory that is not a single entity or idea but a short story, or narrative, within the framework of the overall story of my life. The paintings then represent those memories, and more specifically; who and what they stand for. Consequentially, the paintings function according to an observation by Berin Golonu that “Sometimes all it takes is a sensory clue to send these forgotten memories reeling forward, and we are often astonished at their swift arrival along with their ability to re-situate us so perfectly in the past.”  

Berin Golonu. “Persistence of Memory” in Artweek v. 32 no. 3 (March 2001), 6.