As She Likes It. 2001

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The five embroideries that compose As She Likes It were made for House Guests, a group exhibition at Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. The show took place in The Grange wing, once a lavish private home, built between 1817 and 1820 by D’Arcy Boulton, Jr. My contribution was installed in the library, an addition to the building commissioned in 1885 by Goldwin Smith, then resident in the house. Smith had come to Toronto after resigning his position on the board of directors of Cornell College, in Ithaca, New York, in protest of the board’s decision to admit women students. Yet his occupancy of the Grange depended on a woman—his wife, Harriette—for it derived from his connection by marriage to the Boulton family.

For As She Likes It I chose passages in which Shakespeare’s women characters express distinctly female points of view on marriage, courtship, and other aspects of relationships between the sexes. These clever and resourceful heroines are not defeated by the constraints of their situations. I combined each text with an image, a visual take on related concerns, chosen from Minerva Britannia (1612), an illustrated book by a contemporary of Shakespeare, Henry Peacham. There is a doubling theme in the imagery—two cherries, two birds, two rings—and a ribbonlike line runs throughout. I chose the images to point in another direction from the text or to emphasize something in it.

I made my five embroideries into fire screens—the ornamental screens with which Victorian women shielded their complexions from the heat as they sat by the fire. Installed in the library at The Grange, my pieces corresponded with the Minton tiles that decorate the mantelpiece surrounding the hearth, which are illustrated with scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Mr. Smith’s masculine preserve was host to a group of Shakespeare’s women conducting a fireside chat.