Since lacemaking originated in the 16th century, the craft and its predominantly female maker have been a well-loved topic in the Western art canon. From Vermeer’s 17th-century genre painting The Lacemaker to Kimsooja’s recent video Tread Routes chapter II, the figure of the lacemaker, the tools she handles and the fragile white textile she produces fascinate artists and audiences alike. The lacemaker is often depicted on her own, but at times in intergenerational group settings. This paper aims to unpack representations of individual and groups of lacemakers uncovering a thread from lace training in childhood to continuing lace production in old age. The results connect women’s lives, their craft and intergenerational collaboration to domestic lace industries, national identity and cultural heritage. As a case study serve photographs, postcards and posters of Belgian lacemakers during and shortly after the First World War.
Dr Wendy Wiertz is a senior research fellow at the University of Huddersfield. Her research interests include material culture, gender studies and humanitarian aid in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In her current project, supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship, she focuses on humanitarian organisations who saved the renowned Belgian lace industry in the First World War, while simultaneously ensuring the wartime employment of Belgian lacemakers. The produced lace became known as war lace, as its unique iconography referred directly to the conflict. Prior to this, she completed her PhD in Art History (KU Leuven, Belgium, 2018), curated two exhibitions and was a Fulbright and honorary Belgian American Educational Foundation scholar at Columbia University and an academic visitor at the University of Oxford.
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