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Page Turner Creates a Present Voice for Those Silenced in the Past

by Pat Berryhill

Page Turner doesn’t present herself as controversial or withpomp and circumstance. In fact, she doesn’t view her metamorphosis into anassemblage artist or as a feminist with a strong background in the Mormon faithas being particularly exceptional at all. She is very humble. She states that she “always had a love for art andart history in college” and was “drawn to it.” As she studied the humanitiesand anthropology at Brigham Young University in Idaho, she considered herselfjust a “dabbler” in art. She could not conceive herself “good enough” to be anartist. Little did she know it would be here that she would stumble upon a bigcatalyst to her artistic journey.

I papered the wall in my dormitorybedroom and drew Zen-like diagrams of overlapping faith points, seeking andseeing where they differed and where they coincided. I was in a crisis offaith. I used to sneak into a forbidden room in the library. We weren’tsupposed to go in there and I supposed if anyone had ever caught me there, Iwould have found a friend. I spent hours in there alone. I discovered a woman’sdiary from the 1840s. It was her account of her travels from Nauvoo, Illinoisto Utah or “Zion”, the Promised Land, after The Mormon Extermination Order wasgiven. Mormon men, women, and children were to be shot on sight. So she leftwith the others, and along this journey, her husband was killed. Two of herchildren died, she had one nursing baby she carried on her hip. She questionedher faith and why she was leaving her home. During all this crisis she sawbeauty in flower fields, she drew lace patters after those flowers and sketchesin the margins on the pages. Her last entry was a dress pattern. She was goingto make this dress when she reached Zion. I copied it in my own journal. Ialways kept it. Ten years later, I decided, looking through my journals, Iwould finish her journey. I would give her a voice.

Page’s history as an artist really extends back muchfurther. As a child raised within the Mormon culture, she was taught certainskills and lines for specific gender roles were drawn. Domestic skills wereemphasized. It was here that Page learned to sew, among other things, and herethat she learned the reverence for these daily tasks and love of items that are”tools belonging to women, such as material remnants, and the everyday mementosthat someone saves – sentimental objects, trifles, trinket, and sundries.”She collected antique tools that have scratches and wear on them to create herworks of art. This collection numbers 21 in total. Where do the other 20 comefrom?

As Page looked through her journals she discovered that manystrong women she’d written about became major influences in her life. Some shehad never known. Some she knew as a child and some as an adult. Some had passedand some were living. Though she become inactive at age 18, she was (and stillis today), ingrained in the Mormon community.

I experienced my feministawakening very young and struggled to find balance and equality within thedoctrine and culture. An evident vacancyexists within the doctrine, especially within the Mormon culture, that vacancyis shaped like a woman. I recognize nowthat this is what drove me to obsess over these character traits andobservations that filled the pages of my journals. At the time, I was simply trying to logic outwhat it meant to be a Mormon, a woman, and a feminist through the lens of thesisters in my community. I hold thesewomen in my heart and I share their effigy to give them undeniable presence andrespect.

These are the other women within the series. The initialdress pattern from that first journal entry is distinct. It is made from anantique sugar sack. Subsequent dress forms and dresses or garments vary bydegree according to the time period, a woman’s age and how close therelationship between Page and the woman represented. Those closest to Page arethe three in undergarments; the undergarments representative of the intimacy ofa close friendship.

Another interestingaspect of her work is the utilization of feathers, bird feet and tiny bones toaccent the forms and dresses. Page explains this in several ways. “There arethose women who retain some features of birds; we are all bird-like in a sense.Have you read Terry Tempest William’s WhenWomen Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice?” I admitted I had not.However, prior to writing this article, I looked it up and found a quote thatshowed me exactly what she meant. “Women piece together their lives from thescraps left over for them.” (Goodreads:When Women Were Birds Quotes). This is analogous, to me, of a bird buildinga nest. She also likes how the tiny bones, utilized as accents on the dresses,can look like jewelry and lace but upon closer inspection you can see that itis something else. “You have to look deeper,” she says. “This is like womentoo. From a distance, women let you see what they want or perhaps you see theimage that society has projected upon them. Once you get closer to a woman, youget to see what lies beneath that. You see what is deeper, what she is reallymade of. It is just as beautiful and may be delicate or perceived as delicate,but sturdier than you thought. Strong like bones. Not what you expected tofind.”

WANNA go? A Stitch inTime Saves Nine can be seen at DelurkGallery 207 W 6th St Winston Salem through May 30. Check theDelurk website for gallery hours. You may also see Page Turner’s work at PageTurnerStudios.com and her Facebookpage.

Pat Berryhill is doing a residency at The Weymouth Center and has been published in Change Seven Magazine.

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