‘Celebrate Doilies’ brings nostalgia to the Jung Center
The Jung Center, nestled next to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, is a Museum District gallery founded to promote the ideas of Freud disciple and psychotherapeutic giant Carl Jung. “The Jung Center,” its website reads, “provides pathways to find a deeper meaning in everyday life.” Its past exhibitions include lectures on feng shui, laughter yoga, the therapeutic effects of LSD, “strengthening your resilience muscles” and suchlike. So it certainly came as a surprise to me to learn that the center’s latest exhibition, “Celebrate Doilies: Connecting Families Across Time and Space,” centers entirely on doilies.
Doilies are weblike, woven objects, invented in the 1600s and highly popular in America up to the mid-1950s. They are often hung on walls or used atop saucers. The Jung Center is not typically renowned for cultivating such a Norman Rockwell-esque vibe, so I have to admit that I entered anticipating some kind of twist, some strange reboot of the concept of the doily for the contemporary age.
I was entirely wrong.
The exhibition, created by local artist, quilter and doily collector Suzann Thompson, consists primarily of quilts, many featuring doilies. Thompson herself was present at the opening to describe her work further. One quilt features an astronomical scene, two doilies sewn where the heads of two comets would lie. Another, titled “A Worthy Accomplishment,” features a doily surrounded by a wreath of laurels — a tribute, Thompson explained, to the women and occasionally men of the early 1900s whose primary accomplishment in their old age was the creation of these delicate items.
There is no irony in “Celebrate Doilies,” no indirectness, no hidden messages lurking behind the curtain. In this way, it doesn’t quite function like one would expect a contemporary exhibition to. It builds up to no overarching worldview. It is a series of comments on doilies themselves, an exploration of their role as mementos and heirlooms even as the practice of doily-making, according to Thompson, retreats into history. If you’re a doily aficionado, there’s a lot to love here. Even if you’re not, the quiet, pervading sense of nostalgia might catch you off guard.
When you walk in the door of the Jung Center, you see a stack of free postcards and a table stacked with doilies. Quilts hang on the wall. Many are accompanied by poems written by Sandi Horton, a close personal friend of Thompson. Horton’s contributions are less poems and more biographies with line-breaks, thoroughly researched and often poignant snapshots of the lives of the doily-makers (she is, in fact, a published poet; when it comes to these poems, she knows exactly what she’s doing.) The overall effect is earnest, sincere and authentic, a tender look at an equally tender art. The space itself, snug and rarely crowded, only accentuates the general sense of intimacy one feels as they examine Thompson’s dozens of handmade quilts. To be clear, I still have nothing even approximating an idea how or why “Celebrate Doilies” wound up at the new-age Jung. Given that it’s there, though, I recommend dropping by.
“Celebrate Doilies: Connecting Families Across Time and Space” is exhibiting at the Jung Center from Jan. 3 to Jan. 30.
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