The apron is a forgotten piece of clothing from a time gone by. Some cloth used to protect the user from aspects of everyday home life.
What isn’t often realized is the apron is more than just a few bits of fabric. To some, it is a unspoken cultural landmark.
In Val Marie there is an art exhibit at the ecomuseum Prairie Wind & Silver Sage presented and created by Madonna Hamel. The show is about the aprons worn by pioneers and the stories they hold, but have never spoken.
Hamel said the idea to tell the stories of homesteading women through the use of aprons came after hearing a short paragraph written by Jack Gunter, who had it placed under the men’s cowboy hats.
The short paragraph was about how men owe their success to the hard work of the women in their lives.
“It’s a way to pay tribute to the homesteading women. Here at the ecomuseum we have the men’s cowboy hats but nothing for the women,” Hamel said.
When Hamel began asking around Val Marie for stories and aprons she was surprised by the results. Women brought in their aprons and stories but along with it came a poem, brought in my many women over a certain age.
“My Mother’s Apron” is a poem essentially about all the uses a woman has for an apron. It could be used for everything from gathering chicken eggs, to cleaning a child’s face. The poem, Hamel found, was like an “underground manifesto” to the women.
“I had never even heard about it before and yet many of these women had and kept bringing it to me,” she explained.
The history behind the apron also fascinated Hamel. From its humble beginnings as a flour-sack apron, where many women would sew in their own designed before the companies started putting patterns on the bags, to the cocktail apron which rose in popularity during the 1960s.
The apron tells the tale of women through the ages, from when it was nearly a necessity, to when it became the mark of an ideal women – of Ma in the kitchen – and even to when women’s roles changed and their “rightful place” became the bedroom.
The apron even tells the story of women either choosing or being forced to wear an apron after discovering the working world during World War II.
“After World War II ideas changed. Many women found they didn’t want to wear an apron anymore. They found they actually liked working outside the home,” said Hamel.
To tell the stories she had been told, of homesteader, mail-order brides and even the ideal woman, Hamel found away to marry her journalistic and artistic training into one idea.
She found quote from various sources and people to tell the story of the women who wear the apron. Hamel created posters to combine the two so the quotes wouldn’t be slapped down on the page.
“I always knew language would be involved, but it had to be done to look like it was on purpose. I had to do something where the quote fit, otherwise no one would read the quotes,” she said.
She found herself recreating the old propaganda posters for emigration in a way. Only her way told the stories of the women who haven’t had them told yet.
The reaction from the guest so far has largely been one of reflection. The art work has made the guests of the museum think about the apron, and the women who wore them, in a way they hadn’t before.
People have also reflected on how the art work was created; from the quotes used, to the women who posed in the photographs.
My Mother’s Apron exhibit opened on June 23 in Val Marie alongside noted photographer’s Sherri Grant’s Amazing Skies exhibit showcasing the Aurora Borealis. The exhibit will be open until mid September.
Hamel hopes to be able to continue to collect stories and aprons to expand her exhibit. She is also considering taking the show outside of Val Marie, to other museums, art galleries or even a coffee house.
“I’m hoping to bring back the apron. I’m saying tie one on again,” said Hamel.w