Lineage is part of a body of work that investigates early New England Hadley chests. The over one hundred chests identified in this category were built from the late seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries in the Hadley-Hatfield region of Western Massachusetts and are believed to be dowry chests. As a furniture-maker, I am drawn to their sturdy construction and the crude, quirky carving that covers most of their fronts. As a material culture scholar, my interest lies in their relationship to domestic roles, gender boundaries and family structure. While considering the Puritan, colonial mindset that was the social context of the original chests, I am drawn to their continued relevance in lieu of contemporary cultural debates around women’s issue—human rights issues—involving marriage, procreation and reproduction, among other things. The building of new forms acts as both an interpretation of the traditional chests as well as an investigation into the ways material culture from our inherited American past may inform our understanding of the constraints of perpetual social constructs.
My practice involves intensive object studies that regard historical furniture from my ancestral and vocational lineage. I focus on iconic early American forms made specifically for women, reclaiming them from the world of male production where they receive most of their scholarly attention, to consider the objects in the traditionally feminine, domestic world of their use. While I unpack latent meanings embedded in furniture, I explore metaphors inherent in its physical structure. My own response to the forms I choose becomes a parallel investigation as I search for identity, both personal and collective, in what is revealed. The work exists primarily as installations including sculptural forms, needlework, video and performance.
About BA Harrington
BA Harrington comes from a family of carpenters. She received her traditional training in cabinet and furnituremaking at the North Bennet Street School in Boston and holds a Master of Fine Arts and a Master’s Degree in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has been exhibited nationally at venues including the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her essay, “Hadley Chests: the Chaos and Sacrifice of Childbirth” was published by Ashgate in 2013 in a collected volume titled Women and the Material Culture of Death. Harrington is currently Director of The Wood Center at IUP and Assistant Professor of Woodworking in the Department of Art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she is also an affiliate faculty member of the Sustainability Studies and the Women and Gender Studies programs.