Berman Museum

Reimagining the Distaff Toolkit

Each work of art in Reimagining the Distaff Toolkit has, at its visible core, a tool that was important for women’s domestic labor in the past. The old tool becomes the fulcrum for a contemporary work of art. Distaff artists have placed these objects and others at the center of their work: a washboard, a dressmaker’s figure, graters, doilies, an advice book, cooking pans, a basket, dress patterns, a rolling pin, buckets, darning eggs, a work glove, a needle threader, rug-beaters, ironing boards, mason jars, a telephone.


Many of these tools facilitated repetitive labor and evoke the various histories of women’s unpaid work and often diminished and disrespected status within the household and society. But in the twenty-first century, at a moment when “old tools” have become aestheticized and expensive, we can look again, and see costly beauty. The artists have put utility in conversation with the past.




Artists whose work is represented in this exhibition include Betye and Alison Saar, Lisa Alvarado, Dave Cole, Judy Hoyt, Larry Ruhl, and Flo Oy Wong, among others.



Reimagining the Distaff Toolkit  is organized by curator and historian Rickie Solinger, Ph.D. The exhibition is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Epps Advertising, Dorothy Nofer ’51, an Anonymous Donor, the Ursinus College Arts & Lectures Program, the Creative Writing Program, and the Andrew W. Mellon Teaching and Learning Initiative.

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