Jessica Gritton is a trans woman processing her transition through stitches — creating embroidery and cross-stitch art work, that is.
Gritton took up needle arts just a little more than year before several of her pieces were included in “The Pleasure of Making,” an exhibition that opened in January at ICOSA Collective’s gallery.
Organized and curated by Tammie Rubin, ICOSA member, ceramic sculptor, and assistant professor of art at St. Edward’s University, “The Pleasure of Making” proved a bright spot on the exhibition landscape. Rubin reached out local crafters, hobbyists and makers — people normally outside the self-circumscribed boundary of contemporary art. Rubin sent out her call for entry to crafting groups, church groups and recreation centers — a community of makers far outside her usual professional and academic circles.
Gritton says she received notice of the exhibition through a friend in a needlework group. Rubin selected five pieces. And “The Pleasure of Making” marked the first time Gritton exhibited her art work.
Gritton is entirely self-taught. “I started learning as a craft with my daughter and have since continued as an avenue for expressing issues related to my transgender identity,” she says.
Rubin cites a combination of traits that gives Gritton’s work such immediate appeal. There is a very contemporary style and content to the imagery particularly in the embroidery loop pieces. Patches of appliqué with bright, modern fabric add an immediate flare.
Gritton also embraces a certain amount of white space in her compositions, a departure from traditional, heavily decorated needlework. Simple, clear lines reveal Gritton’s distinctive artistic hand, especially in the self-portraits.
“There’s a kind of minimalism to her work that’s very refreshing,” says Rubin. “It’s very contemporary, and not without conceptual technique even though it’s very expressive.”
“I think a lot of what I’m interested in is connected by a need to tell some truth about ourselves or our experiences,” she says. “Much of my work seems to focus on sharing things about myself (and my transness) that I kept hidden for years.”
Like many artists, Gritton keeps a record on Instagram of what she’s working on, what she’s looking at for inspiration, what she is reading.
She digs into online collections to find examples of historical needle arts, like a sampler made c. 1830 by a young English woman named Elizabeth Parker in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Or an embroidered handkerchief worked in Holloway Prison by suffragette Janie Terrero. Says Gritton: “Terrero’s embroidery is moving as it creates a record of protest and self sacrifice that likely wouldn’t have been allowed if it hadn’t been made in a media that was dismissed by the prison guards.”
Poetry proves a major artistic source for Gritton. “I love the poem “Candor” by Anne Carson that starts ‘If you are not the free person you want to be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you.'”
Recently, after months of work, Gritton completed a large sampler with a poem of her own.
“We want the world and the meek to save it,” the poem — passionate, enigmatic — ends. “To the lights we never saw.”