Merill Comeau

American, contemporary

Women’s Work is Never Done

2012-2019 Fabric, paint, thread

Merill Comeau is a storyteller in fabric, crafting biography through garments.  Her work pays close attention to lost histories and untold stories, using material objects to create identity.  Historically, skill in sewing was a necessity for working women.  Learning to sew was deemed useful and productive, the creation of garments an essential task.  The anonymous nature of “women’s work” means that the objects women left behind are often what are used to tell overlooked histories.  For many, the needle served as the tool for crafting identity in a way that the pen could not.  Women’s Work Is Never Done has been a seven-year project.  An on-going exploration of garment construction techniques and fabric manipulation, it has progressively articulated the relationship of the construction of the garment to the wearer.  Comeau uses only painted black fabric, a range of elaborate handwork, and tongue-in-cheek tags—there is nothing extraneous in this work—emphasizing the utilitarian over the decorative.

Fiber art has been historically associated with women, femininity, and domesticity, deemed craft that could not be fine art, an assumption that has unfortunately not completely dissipated.  In the 1970s, textiles and clothing were increasingly incorporated into a variety of artworks as a rejection of the traditional art historical distinction between art and craft.  Comeau’s work is in this vein, using fabric to critique earlier definitions of “women’s work.”  She is reclaiming women’s handwork, but she is not disguising it as something other than the garment construction that was a part of many women’s daily routine.  In erasing the division between art and craft, she merges traditional handwork with fine art.

Gift of the Artist, 2020.4.1-.93