Honoring Health Care Workers from a Kitchen Studio
By Ryan Carrington
For the last decade I have been investigating the shift in public perspective towards the culturally defined roles of blue and white-collar workers in the United States. I grew up in a family that values labor, hard work, and creating with one’s hands. My work bridges issues of labor, class, work ethic, and economics with my personal and family history. Within my studio practice I delve deeply into processes that parallel the monotony and tedium that laborers endure.
A couple of years ago in a rather harrowing, yet somehow simultaneously serene experience, my wife, mother-in-law, and I delivered our baby girl just past the threshold of our driveway in the front seat of our minivan. (There were a series of events and circumstances that led to us not making it the six blocks to the hospital on time, but that is for another blog post someday.) I will say that our daughter is happy and healthy, and, although tempting, we chose a family name instead of Sienna, one of Toyota’s finest models.
"Flag #16" - Carpenter's Pants, Suits, Collared Shirts, Neckties, 2019
In the hospital I explained to my daughter’s intake pediatrician that I was an artist who uses uniforms of American workers to create flags, and asked her if she had any used scrubs or lab coats. She said she had some old ones, and agreed to donate them to me. I consider collecting materials part of my studio process, and am always surprised by the rich and intimate history that clothing can provide when dissected. Over the last two years, I’ve slowly amassed a collection of worn out health-care uniforms with the intention of one day making something with them. Earlier this year the world shifted, and I realized that day had come. The pandemic provided the opportunity to pivot, and finally dig into my collection of healthcare uniforms.
I’ve been preparing for my solo exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles titled, Contradictions, scheduled to open in November. Imagine a take on the tradition of the American barbeque, complete with flags, gingham plaid, and a giant plywood pie. The work is meant to simultaneously honor traditions of American culture, as well as provoke consideration for how we value each other in our ever-changing community.
With two little ones at home, my studio time is pretty much relegated to the evening hours after teeth have been brushed and bedtime stories have been read. In accordance with Santa Clara County policy, we are unable to regularly access our studio facilities on campus, but my kitchen island has always proved to be a trusted sewing table, and now is no different.
By using the uniforms of healthcare workers to make an American flag, I’m honoring the hard work and dedication that they are putting forth as they literally fight for our lives. The sacrifice and courage that our nurses, doctors, and hospital staff have made for the health of our society is unimaginable. Trained as an artist, this is my way of participating in this larger conversation, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to say thank you for their service, and hope that everyone stays safe through these uncertain times.