Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Labor as work, Labor as art

This is a belated commemoration of our country's Labor Day (it is on May 1 just about everywhere else). (Blogger was not being very cooperative so I had to wait it out until it was feeling better.)

I decide to explore some of the old mills and farms that still exist in my area. I've been to many of the farms in the past (I'll have to share those pictures with you at another time) but I've never gone to any of the mills.

Well, needless to say, it is no longer 'just a mill'. It is a building with many small shops, mostly antiques, but some textile related businesses remain. In the main building, I met a 96 year old worker! She has worked there for over 50 years but she wouldn't say exactly how long. She does machine embroidery, making Scout patches for troops all over the world!

She confided that she still enjoyed her work and it was better than sitting home doing nothing. She began to tell me of the time the shop converted from hand embroidery to machines. She then went to the back of the store and brought out some very old but beautiful wool fabric with the most delicate lace and eyelet stitching. She says she still finds it hard to believe that a machine could do all of this fine detail!

I wondered about my ancestors and the native peoples of New Jersey. I wondered if wages concerned them or working conditions, or if they had work at all? Were they free or slave, field hands or craftspeople?

Looking at this woman, old but independent with her dignity in tact. I wondered about my own grandmother and if she did what she enjoyed, I know the answer but somehow, the finality of knowing is too painful an understanding. I wish I could ask Howard Zinn to explain it all again.

In another area, there was a carpet cleaning operation. A beautiful oriental carpet was just working its way through the machine. I thought about the little hands that tied all of those knots... Why is it that these wonderful creations made by thousands of people the world over, over time and time again, never reveal their misery, just mastery?

The last thing I saw as I was leaving the mill, was a little miniature shop with thousands of replicas of just about everything in miniature. It was this grouping that gave me hope..

1 comment:

sturdygirl said...

that lace is beautiful. it is amazing what a machine can do...but even more amazing what people can do with their own two hands, despite all odds. to me, that's the spirit of labor day. thanks for the tour of brownstone mill - i'd love to visit it someday.