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The Strong, Star-Bright Companions


My project? I seek out women involved in direct-action campaigns who are wearing sweaters that, in some way, reflect their ideological intentions.

The artwork that I make initially stems from archival activist footage. In this footage, I seek out women involved in direct-action campaigns who are wearing sweaters that, in some way, reflect their ideological intentions. I then go about creating a knitting pattern for these found sweaters as carefully as possible: imagining the weight of the yarn and era-specific styling, deciding which colors would best approximate the values in a black and white photo, sometimes imagining a sweater in its entirety when it is only partially seen. My patterns are painted in gouache on paper that I grid to reflect the yarn gauge appropriate to each sweater. These patterns can then be followed to recreate the sweater.

I make this work in order to memorialize the glory of effective resistance in an effort that these moments do not vanish from popular memory, in an effort that they can reach new audiences to inspire. The anti-nuke Women’s Peace Camp at the Greenham Common U.S. Airbase in Berkshire, England in the 1980s and 1990s is a site of continual research and awe. I like the idea that, for example, through the recreation of a Greenham sweater, a new “wearer” might be beckoned. I also have a particular interest in assigning valor to young women from the Pacific Northwest, like Rachel Corrie and Beth “Horehound” O’Brien, who sacrificed their lives for causes greater than themselves.

Editors’ Note: Be sure to turn on the slideshow captions to learn more about each piece.


Ellen Lesperance was born in Minneapolis and raised in Seattle, Washington. She received a BFA in Painting from the University of Washington in 1995 and a MFA in Visual Arts from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 1999. Her work is currently on view at the Seattle Art Museum, where she is the recipient of the 2010 Betty Bowen Award. She is currently included in “The People’s Biennial,” a traveling exhibit curated by Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffman.

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