Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"My Resting Place" - Mayn Rue Plats

I am an artist and I work alone in my studio. During most of the day and late into the night, I follow my instincts, I use whatever talent I have, and have more ideas than I can follow through with. My hands don't work as fast as my mind. A fleeting moment, a flash of inspiration often gets left behind due to other demands. Sometimes I write them down, or make a quick sketch. But, when something takes hold of me and won't let go, I have to fling myself down that rabbit hole.

And so it was one night, working away, listening to music, when a haunting melody, a song I'd heard many time before, gripped my heart. I listened over and over again. I am still humming it.

The first time I heard the song, I knew it was in Yiddish, and the minor key and the lyrics in English made me believe it was about the Holocaust. As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, [Mom Dad] my response was immediate. But no, "Mayn Rue Plats" is a poem set to music, relating the sad story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Recent horrific factory deaths - fires, building collapses in Bangladesh and harsh working conditions around the world spurred me to create a piece of art that would reflect the horror of these tragedies - a response in mixed media. The price of profit... the lives of women...

The version I was listening to is by June Tabor, a British folk singer who I have followed and enjoyed since 1976 when I purchased "Silly Sisters" an album with another amazing folk singer, Maddy Prior. I had to follow my gut reaction.

The song is on Tabor's album Aqaba [one of my favorites]. Although the poem was written prior to the tragedy, it is very closely associated with the fire, which spurned changes in labor laws, state and federal government safety laws and unions.  

This is the poem written in by "Sweatshop" poet Morris Rosenfeld [1862-1923]:

Mayn Rue Platz
Don’t look for me where myrtles are green.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where lives wither at the machines,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where birds sing.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
I am a slave where chains ring,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where fountains spray.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where tears flow and teeth gnash,
There is my resting place.

And if you love me with true love,
So come to me, my good beloved,
And cheer my gloomy heart
And make sweet my resting place.

Most of the women who died in the fire were young Jewish and Italian immigrants - as young as 13. They were cutters and machine operators. The owners of the factory [located in New York City] locked the doors so the workers were not able to go into the stairwells to take breaks or to steal the products. When a fire broke out in a bin of scrap fabric, the women were not able to escape through locked doors - and many leapt out of windows or died in collapsing stairwells, flung themselves down the elevator shaft or were consumed in the fire, sitting at their sewing machines. Read more here, here and here. Warning, there are gruesome photographs on these sites.

The result of my trip down this sad, sad rabbit hole? My piece, "My Resting Place" 
It is 24x24" mixed media on canvas. It contains images of 129 women - each photo charred and sample "swatches" of fabric, also burned. It contains "ghost" images of actual victims Franny Rosen,
and Josephine Cammarata below...
of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and one upside down,  a child
plummeting from the 9th floor. 

Other details include hand stitching, burned locks and keyholes, silk flowers, ribbon, chain,
measuring tape, pins and machine parts. The background includes excerpts of the original poem in Yiddish. The main portrait is of a young woman, created in my signature style of paper mosaic. Photos here were taken in bright sunlight so you might see shadows, and are not perfectly aligned. You'll also notice an easel in the front. Please DO NOT COPY without permission.

Please listen to the song while gazing at this piece [here is a Yiddish version]. And please let me know what you think. If you would like to see my work "in person" Please visit my site to see where it is shown. If you would like to purchase this piece, please contact me directly.