Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Welcome to the Spencer Collection

Calpurnia
  • Willie Cole
    born 1955
    born: Somerville, New Jersey, United States
  • Calpurnia, 2012
  • Beauties
  • Where object was made: United States
  • intaglio and relief print
  • Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 1613 x 572 mm
    Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 63 1/2 x 22 1/2 in
    Frame Dimensions: 63 3/4 x 22 3/4 in
  • Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund
  • On view: Gallery 404
  • 2016.0031
Label Text
Exhibitions

Exhibition Label:
"American Dream", 11-Mar-2017
In conjunction with the 2016 Common Book, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Spencer Museum of Art has selected this group of prints by Willie Cole as the accompanying Common Work of Art. Part of the Beauties series of twenty-seven prints Cole produced with Highpoint Editions, these delicate images are printed from used metal ironing boards that Cole and his colleagues flattened by driving over them with cars, trucks, and skateboards, and beating them with hammers. The gouged and architectural surfaces of the resulting prints resemble shrouded figures as well as diagrams of slave ships that were circulated by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cole’s evocations of servitude and slavery through irons and ironing boards connect many aspects of his history and career. His great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother all worked in domestic service, and his studio in Newark, New Jersey, was once a sweatshop. When asked if he projects associations with slavery onto these objects Cole countered: “I bring it out. The objects have a memory and history of their own. So if you have a slave, or just a domestic worker, people working for little money, their objects have a memory of that experience.”
—Kate Meyer
Curator, Spencer Museum of Art

Exhibition Label:
"Brosseau Center for Learning: In Conversation with the 2016 KU Common Book", 17-Oct-2016
The "Beauties," a series of 27 prints of full-scale ironing boards, are printed from metal ironing boards Willie Cole acquired from the Salvation Army and Craigslist. Cole and the printers at Highpoint distressed and flattened the boards until they could be run through an etching press. The resulting gouged and architectural printed surfaces resemble shrouded figures as well as diagrams of slave ships that were circulated by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each board is titled with a name that references Cole’s ancestors, family, or iconic slaves or domestics from literature, including Calpurnia from "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Cole’s evocations of servitude and slavery through irons and ironing boards connect many aspects of his history and career. Several of his relatives worked as domestics and his studio was once a sweatshop. When asked if he projects associations with slavery onto these objects Cole countered: “I bring it out. The objects have a memory and history of their own. So if you have a slave, or just a domestic worker, people working for little money, their objects have a memory of that experience.”

Mobile App Exhibition Label:
"American Dream", 11-Mar-2017
In conjunction with the 2016 Common Book, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Spencer Museum of Art has selected this group of prints by Willie Cole as the accompanying Common Work of Art. Part of the Beauties series of twenty-seven prints Cole produced with Highpoint Editions, these delicate images are printed from used metal ironing boards that Cole and his colleagues flattened by driving over them with cars, trucks, and skateboards, and beating them with hammers. The gouged and architectural surfaces of the resulting prints resemble shrouded figures as well as diagrams of slave ships that were circulated by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cole’s evocations of servitude and slavery through irons and ironing boards connect many aspects of his history and career. His great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother all worked in domestic service, and his studio in Newark, New Jersey, was once a sweatshop. When asked if he projects associations with slavery onto these objects Cole countered: “I bring it out. The objects have a memory and history of their own. So if you have a slave, or just a domestic worker, people working for little money, their objects have a memory of that experience.”
—Kate Meyer
Curator, Spencer Museum of Art