Saturday, 17 August 2013

At What Price Fashion...

"At What Price Fashion-Triangle Factory Fire"
Saturday, March 25, 1911. 4:40PM. Quitting time for the employees of The Triangle Waist Company. The factory occupied the eight, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building at Greene Street and Washington Place in Manhattan.

Owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris employed five hundred workers, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant women, to produce blouses known as "shirtwaists". The style was "the" fashion statement of the day, popularised by artist Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl".

The employees worked nine hour shifts on weekdays and seven hours on Saturdays. At the close of business for the week a fire started under a cutting table in a scrap bin on the eight floor from either a match or discarded cigarette.  The fire spread rapidly across the wooden floors. A passerby saw smoking coming from the building and raised a fire alarm.

To prevent theft, the managers had the doors to the stairwells and exits locked. The practice was a common one at the time, but because of this the women could not escape the fire. Many jumped to their death, fell off faulty fire escapes, or died of smoke inhalation.

In total, 146 workers died. It remains as one of the deadliest disasters in New York history. The oldest victim was forty-three, the youngest fourteen. The Triangle Factory Fire prompted further legislation requiring factory safety standards. It also enabled the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

I have been interested in the Fire for many years now. I'm not sure why, but I have always had a fascination with the turn of the century Lower East Side history from the time I was a young girl. It always moved me deeply, in a way that I imagine people who believe in reincarnation feel.

I admire the work of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.This is our collective history. We should never forget the victims of such a horrific accident. We should never undervalue women's work.

The collage is a conventional piece. The photo is of the burning Asch building. Surrounding the photo of the women dressed in their "waists" are the names of all 146 workers who perished in the fire. I also added a Catholic and Jewish prayer for the dead.

The substrate is canvas. The papers are handmade, art, and sewing pattern paper. Images are from my collection of vintage photos and news clippings. I also used rubber stamped images, inks and dyes. I wanted to keep the piece monochromatic.

So, at what price fashion? We make the choice every time we shop.

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