Dual-Campus Exhibit to Feature Chilean ‘Arpilleras’
By Chloe Mitchell '21
A dual-campus, student-faculty research team will present on Chilean patchwork, or arpilleras, through the display of two bilingual North Country museum exhibits in Spring 2019. The first will take place from Feb. 14 to March 30 at SUNY Potsdam’s Gibson Gallery, and the second will take place from March 4 to April 11 at St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Art Gallery. Both showings are free and open to the public.
Following a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government, Chilean women sewed patchwork tapestries called arpilleras from scraps of household cloth, including the clothing of missing relatives, to depict repression, economic hardship, community survival, and political mobilization against the regime.
Jubilee Crafts, a Philadelphia fair-trade pioneer in the 1970s and 1980s staffed entirely by women, imported hundreds of arpilleras and marketed them nationwide to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and human rights abuses in Chile.
SUNY Potsdam Professor of History M. J. Heisey directed Jubilee Crafts in the 1980s. She recently learned that a collection of arpilleras had been sitting in a co-worker’s basement since the closing in the 1990s. Heisey then reached out to Lily Trevizan and Oscar Sarmiento, fellow SUNY Potsdam professors of modern languages who were university students and teachers in Chile during the dictatorship, to provide valuable first-hand experience of life under Pinochet.
Tamara Feinstein, visiting assistant professor and coordinator of the Caribbean, Latin American and Latino studies at St. Lawrence, and St. Lawrence student Janis Broder ’20 teamed up with the SUNY Potsdam group this past year in preparation for these exhibitions. The collaboration allowed both campuses to feature more than 60 Chilean arpilleras and provide a deeper understanding of the meaning behind each piece in both English and Spanish.
Feinstein and Broder, along with SUNY Potsdam student Ryan Hutchins ’19, traveled to Chile for two weeks during the summer of 2018 conducting research and interviewing eight creators of the arpilleras in preparation for the exhibition. “I hope to bring younger generations of North Country students to learn more about this movement and spread the importance of global human rights,” Feinstein said.
The collection on display comes primarily from the working-class workshops operating towards the end of the dictatorship. The exhibit materials will be donated to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Chile after it closes.
Located in the Griffiths Arts Center, the Brush Art Gallery is free and open to the public from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Both exhibits will host a series of special events programming, including public talks at St. Lawrence by Chile expert and author Katherine Hite, professor of political science at Vassar College, on March 4 and international muralist Francisco Letelier on March 27. Both events will begin at 7 p.m. in Griffiths Arts Center, room 123. For more information, contact 315-229-5174 or visit www.stlawu.edu/gallery and www.forgingmemory.org.