Lessons of Empathy in Wonderland

Mother and Child Night, 2019

Oct. 15, 2020, to Jan. 10, 2021

Fiber artist Ann Clarke of Syracuse creates monumental rugs that are inspired by caring for her 100-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Clarke is her sole source of support.

“Betty remains physically robust, but her mind is ravaged by dementia,” Clarke said. “For her, shifting shards of her life stick and unstick, fold and reform resulting in reconstructed narratives that both affirm and challenge my understandings.”

Her current work is “History Lessons,” a series of large-scale rugs that she knits in sections that are sew together by hand and then processed in her washing machine. Pieces from Clarke’s “Portal” and “Forms” series will also be on display.

Clarke began making huge pieces 2½ years ago as a challenge to see how large she could make rugs in her home studio, using a standard home washing machine. The answer is enormous, with one rug measuring 13 feet long, and time-consuming. Some pieces easily take eight weeks of a full 40-hour workweek.

The pieces incorporate images and text in layers that sometimes overlap each other. Clarke’s work reflects how she processes her mother’s disease “because it’s hard and complicated. I have one piece called ‘Mother and Child’ where I am both the mother and the child, and she is both the mother and the child.”

Why rugs? “The rugs are functional,” she said. “They are what I stand on.” It’s a way for Clarke to stay grounded when her mother believes that family members who have died are still alive.  “In my caring for her, I had to let go of what I thought about her insistence on what right was, or my own insistence on what right was, and to just go with it,” Clarke said. “So if she believes that her mother is still alive, insisting that her mother is not still alive is not a productive trajectory to take, because she would be upset.”

Love and Loathe, 2020
Math Notes Day, 2019
Gravity, 2020

Click here to download a list of pieces in the exhibit.