Worth, skill, status, and recognition by Dr. Jessica Grimm of Acupictrix

Worth, skill, status, and recognition by Dr. Jessica Grimm of Acupictrix
September 3, 2022 Acupictrix - Dr Jessica Grimm
Textiles at the Historical Museum of Crete

Featured image above: Textiles at the Historical Museum of Crete

Native of the Netherlands, Dr. Jessica Grimm lives in Germany where she is compiling a database of medieval goldwork embroidery from Europe. Her research forms the basis of the medieval goldwork course and future courses on historical embroidery. Jessica is also involved in developing a determination key for goldthreads for use with historical embroidery.  www.jessicagrimm.com

Dr Jessica Grimm and her husband, Patrice, in Crete, 2018

Dr Jessica Grimm and her husband, Patrice, in Crete, 2018

In the spring of 2018, my husband and I holidayed on the Greek island of Crete. I had visited the island as an archaeology student 20 years before and was keen on showing all its archaeological wonders to my archaeology husband. It became a memorable trip in which we even participated in the lavish, sensual, and lengthy celebration of Orthodox Easter at a tiny monastery high up in the mountains. On the last day, we visited the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion. Amongst its beautiful collection of embroidered textiles, I saw this poignant museum caption that has stayed with me ever since:

‘For the “person of yesterday“ there is no dividing line between working and free time. The concept of free time does not even exist. Time is not a commercial commodity. It can not be valued in money. And the same is true with hard work. It can not be bought, it is given. It is this, which makes the handicrafts invaluable. These handicrafts in turn will bestow on their makers the characterization of “worth”, of skill, in other words status and recognition from the other members of the community.’

So true, don’t you think? And yet, the experiences of us modern artisans are often very different.

From Spring until Autumn, I demonstrate goldwork embroidery at my local Open Air Museum called Glentleiten. It is a beautiful place with commanding views of the meadows in the plain below and the towering mountains above. The park is filled with 65 original buildings dating from the late Middle Ages to the 1950s. I occupy building 11, which is a farmhouse that was built in 1637/38 and has a reconstructed interior dating to about 1700.

Building 11 at Glentleiten

Building 11 at Glentleiten – The house name Zehentmaier is a family name and was transferred to the farmstead by a previous farmer. The history of the building is directly linked to a major European event. During the Thirty Years’ War, Swedish soldiers set multiple buildings on fire in Sauerlach, including the building which previously stood on the site of the farm.

 

As I am demonstrating a goldwork embroidery technique that was in use from at least the 13th century until the 18th century, it is a fitting workspace. To make the experience even more real for our visitors, I am wearing replica clothing and I am using original and replica tools. I absolutely love my demonstration job!

 

Glentleiten reenactment - Dr Jessica Grimm demonstrating goldwork embroidery.

Glentleiten reenactment – Dr Jessica Grimm demonstrating goldwork embroidery.

However, I could not do it every day or even on a weekly basis. Once a month suits me perfectly. Not because of the hard wooden bench that even my fleshy bottom isn’t fleshed out enough for. No, it is because of the discrepancy between the above museum caption quote and the reality of the majority of modern-day museum visitors.

It all starts pleasantly enough in Spring. Many of our spring visitors are season-ticket holders. They are really into the past. They ask many interesting questions, and they generally completely get what I am doing and why I am so passionate about medieval embroidery. But come Summer and things change a lot. The ‘Great Unwashed’ descent on the Glentleiten. Whilst I still get the occasional meaningful question? There are now two main questions that dominate: 1) How long does it take? and 2) How much does it cost?

When I truthfully answer these two questions, I get two equally standard remarks: 1) I would not have the patience for that! and 2) You can never make a living from that as nobody can afford your products. And that is sadly all the exchange I have with most of our summer visitors.

What happened to the ‘recognition (of my skill) from the other members of the community’? Why are people obsessed with time and money even when they are enjoying their time off at the museum? Why can so many not simply revel in the experience of seeing an old skill in action? After all, most do not daily see a person decked out in authentic clothing sitting behind an embroidery frame and handling silks and goldthread. May this blog post bring some awareness.


I have a shop on my website with finished pieces that I have made but also supplies like fabric and stencils. Do visit and see if you find something you like! My online classes are also listed there:   Acupictrix Shop

Some examples of my work that are in Artizan Made’s Market. These all link back to my website:

 

 

Comments (3)

  1. Rachel Biel 1 month ago

    Well, I think those comments are something most of us suffer through. It can be annoying but I see it as an opportunity to educate and maybe to lure someone who had no concept about these arts or the history into a new world for them. It’s really not their fault. I feel that here in the United States we become artists despite all of the odds that are stacked up against us. We are definitely not recognized as important to society even though the arts sector brings in more to our economy than agriculture. (Farmers are not appreciated either…) These numbers include the film industry, music, etc. Handwork of any kind, including cooking, is something that has to create a spark of curiosity in order to become important.

    I watched a series on PBS (Public Broadcasting System) many years ago about the National Treasures of Japan. These were people who were so amazing in their craft that they were heralded as treasures by the government. There was a sword maker and a ceramic artist, among others, but the one I remember the most was about an old woman who grew linen and indigo and did all of the processes in between (growing, smashing the linen, making it into threads, weaving it, dyeing it and finally sewing it) to make kimono. I think she made one a year. She was very small and walked hunched over, her back at a 90 degree angle…. All of that bending took its toll.

    I think you are so fortunate to have this open air museum near you and that you do get all of the people that can ask educated questions. There is certainly a vibrant textile community worldwide and we are lucky to access them. But, the masses? They have been dumbed down and sold off to plastics…. But, maybe, just maybe…. one or two of these will see what you are doing and a seed will be planted….

  2. Author
    Dr Jessica Grimm 4 weeks ago

    I think one of the emotions I trigger in some visitors is that of jealousy. So many people have jobs that do not fulfil them. Yet, they need to pay their mortgage, second car and multiple holidays each year. When I lie a little and, when asked, pretend that embroidery is just a hobby, the reactions I get are not nearly as negative. When I am honest and admit that embroidery is my job, reactions can be really vile. I try to be mindful of that and steer them away from the negative and towards my purpose as a re-enactor.

    • Rachel Biel 4 weeks ago

      Oh, that is so awful! But, that attitude would not work well with embroidery anyhow…. You need to have a lot of patience and a restful mind. And, how many people would put in the years of work that you have in order to build the skills, knowledge and insight that you have?

      I read an article yesterday that was good to see. It’s exactly about what you are saying about people not being fulfilled. So many people are acting on that here in the US that it has become a movement, people leaving their jobs to start living closer to nature or turning their hobbies into businesses. They realized when things shut down during Covid that they just didn’t want to be in the rat race anymore. This is a good trend because it shows that there is a financial understanding about paying more for what is handmade, organic or meaningful. It was in The Guardian: How the Simple Life Came in from the Margins

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