At first, artist and StFX fine art instructor Margaret Nicholson didn’t know what she was going to do with the aprons she started collecting about eight years ago.
Eight years later, the aprons, now numbering 1,000, are hanging on a 2,000 foot clothesline located on a back trail on the grounds of the Bethany Centre and Motherhouse.
The outdoor art exhibit is titled One Thousand Aprons Waving Goodbye. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place Thursday, Aug. 1, at the Bethany Centre at 6 p.m. It will be followed by a reception at the All of Us Society for Art Presentation (ASAP) centre at 319 Main St. in downtown Antigonish.
“I saw these aprons, they were really lovely,” Nicholson said in conversation with the Casket last week, recalling the early start to her collection.
“They were hand-made by a generation of women who are now passing,” she said.
She included her mother Rita, 95 and living in New Glasgow, as part of that generation and noted the project is dedicated to her.
“Most of them did not work outside of the family, they worked at home. There was a great deal of pride in domesticity, the care of their family … everything,” Nicholson said.
“This was a different time and, for me, when I saw those aprons, it just seemed to me they meant more than their utilitarian purpose. They represented a whole time, my mother’s generation, and it bothered me they were all just to be thrown out. So, when I saw these lovely ones, I started collecting them.”
Nicholson said she had compiled about 100 aprons when the exhibit, “a commemorative tribute,” first occurred to her.
Her artist’s statement further reflects the tribute aspect.
“For women who made and wore them they were not only utilitarian objects, they reflected their skills as seamstresses, pride as homemakers and their dedication to the family,” the statement reads.
“This is in direct contrast to the contentious nature of housework in contemporary families.
“These aprons greatly varied from flour sacks to organzas. They are plain, embroidered, smocked, appliqued, and painted. Some are worn and stained while others have been carefully preserved for special occasions,” the statement further reads.
Nicholson noted, along with her mom, aprons from her aunts are also part of the exhibit and in those circumstances she wrote on the ties identifying the personal connection.
Nicholson said she first did a conceptual drawing of the exhibit in 2006 but it was done without a location in mind. She said the location found is ideal.
“Bethany, home to the Sisters of St. Martha, patron saint of homemakers, is an apt setting for 1,000 aprons,” she said. “The pastoral and wooded landscape so suited for quiet contemplation is now celebrating women’s labour.”
Nicholson expressed huge gratitude towards the Sisters of St. Martha for giving the project a home as well as the support she received from the Province of Nova Scotia, in the form of a grant, and local businesses including Wayne MacDonald of STEELMAC for donating the use of the rebar used for clothesline poles.
The exhibit installation team consisted of Nicholson’s partner Bruce Sparks and local artist TJ Ediger.
The exhibit recalls Nicholson’s 2005 outdoor exhibit, 100 Pieces.
To view One Thousand Aprons Waving Goodbye, turn right off College Street at the Kell’s Quarry Road and watch for the 1,000 aprons sign.
The trail ends at Bethany and exits on Bay Street, just above the hospital.
Drivers are reminded to proceed slowly since it’s a trail used often by hikers and cyclists.