By KEVIN REAGAN
GET OUT Staff
Ann Morton had a nostalgic flashback when she looked through the Chandler Museum’s collections.
The Phoenix artist came across a vintage Camp Fire Girls dress and it made her think of her years as a Girl Scout, when she racked up merit badges for completing domestic skills like sewing.
The museum’s dress got her thinking. It was a ceremonial dress made to resemble something worn by Native American women and Morton felt it was a fascinating example of cultural appropriation — when a dominant culture adopts the symbols and traditions of a minority culture.
The dress was worn by three generations of women between the 1920s and 1960s before it was given to the Chandler Museum. The Camp Fire Girls required members to dress as indigenous women because of their simple, inexpensive fashion, according to the organization’s 1915 manual.
It may have been an innocent adoption of Native American culture by well-intentioned, young girls, Morton said, but she thinks it illustrates how society takes cultural icons and repurposes them.
“We are all trying to search right now about where does white privilege come from and I think this is a prime example of that,” Morton said.
Morton enjoys creating art that’s embedded with a bit of social commentary.
So, she was inspired to use the Camp Fire Girls dress as motivation for work she created as part of the museum’s “Inspired by History” exhibit.
The museum partnered with the city’s Vision Gallery to recruit local artists like Morton to create art inspired by artifacts in the museum’s collections. From spittoons used by A.J. Chandler to vanity mirrors dating back to the 1910s, artists were allowed to pick whatever artifact that sparked their creativity.
Morton decided to put a twist on her Camp Fire Girls dress by embroidering scout-inspired merit badges that subvert the concept of cultural appropriation.
She weaved together three badges: one depicting the famous Land O’Lakes icon of an Indigenous American woman, one displaying the word “assimilation,” and another depicting white bread and butter.
Morton said the badges can be interpreted however one sees them, but she thinks the white bread symbolizes 1950s American culture — a time when consumers bought and used Land O’Lakes butter without much thought about the iconography that was being commercialized.
“We’ve taken this cultural figure and kind of branded it for our own purpose,” Morton said.
Not all artwork included in the museum’s exhibit have the same political tone as Morton’s.
The piece created by Amanda Mollindo, another Phoenix artist, is rather personal — in fact, so personal she attached a physical piece of herself to it.
Mollindo constructed five embroidered hoops and pinned curls of her own hair to each of them. Titled “Spiraled Fractions,” the artist said the piece was an intuitive response to looking at an old-fashioned curling iron in the museum’s collections.
Mollindo’s curious about how people respond to her hair and how they seem to attach it to her identity.
She had previously cut her hair as part of another art project so she already had some of her curls in storage by time she started thinking about what to create for the museum’s exhibit.
Mollindo mainly works with visuals to capture portraits of people and places, but she wanted to work with her hands to make something three-dimensional.
“This was a really fun experiment and a really fun opportunity to work a little outside of what I’m used to,” Mollindo said.
Other artifacts used by artists include an old suitcase, movie theatre seat, window frames, a malt shop mixer, and an adding machine.
“It’s just so interesting to see their interpretation of it,” said Tiffani Egnor, the museum’s curator of education.
Culture, history and art are the three mainstays of the Chandler Museum, she said, and this exhibit blends all those disciplines together.
The exhibit displays some historical background on each of the selected artifacts and the artists provide a written explanation on how it inspired their artwork.
“A lot of these objects haven’t been on display in the museum for a number of years,” Egnor added, “so it’s great to get some of these objects out and see them in a different light.”
Another version of this exhibit was on display last year at City Hall before the museum decided to host it. The museum’s version of the exhibit will include a station that allows visitors to create their own artwork inspired by artifacts.
The exhibit will remain open through Oct. 13.
Information: 480-782-2717. Hours: Tuesday — Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday: 1 – 5 p.m.