BALTIMORE, MD – The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) presents Ellen Lesperance: Velvet Fist, a solo exhibition of works by the Portland, Oregon-based artist known for paintings inspired by the attire of women activists, warriors, and cultural figures. On view January 26–June 28, 2020, the exhibition features seven works from Lesperance’s ongoing Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp series, as well as a new artist book of archival sources. Also featured is Lesperance’s participatory project, Congratulations and Celebrations, through which members of the public can borrow a hand-knit sweater depicting a labrys battle axe to perform a personal act of courage. These acts—big and small, public and private—will be documented on Instagram, with some becoming part of the exhibition

“Ellen Lesperance’s vivid and masterfully rendered works have immortalized the legacy of brave women activists who recognized that creativity itself can lead to mobilizing acts of nonviolence. I am proud to recognize both her achievements and theirs in this powerful exhibition of socially engaged art,” said Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director.

Ellen Lesperance: Velvet Fist is curated by BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Cecilia Wichmann. The exhibition is generously supported by the Estate of Margaret Hammond Cooke.

For over a decade, Ellen Lesperance has collected imagery of life at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981–2000), the separatist feminist camp that formed in protest of U.S. nuclear weapons storage in Berkshire, England. Campers made and wore sweaters not only to keep their bodies warm but also to express their politics through knitted symbols such as rainbows, peace signs, battle axes, and celestial skies. Lesperance reimagines these garments as figurative paintings by using Symbolcraft—a shorthand used by knitters in the U.S. that details the stitches needed to make a garment. Each painting doubles as knitting instructions with sleeves, neckline, and front-and-back designs that may fold in or layer with trousers and scarfs. The artist reimagines colors and motifs when the garment’s reference image is unclear.

More information:

Ellen Lesperance. Velvet Fist. 2014-15. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman, Portland and Derek Eller Gallery, New York