FINDING HOME: Frances Jetter – AMALGAM


(soft piano music) – I always liked to draw
and with a lot kids who draw it’s the same thing,
the parents say, go out. You’re not going to have any friends if you don’t leave it and go outside. And I didn’t really want to. My cousin was an architecture
student how later became an architect and
he had these models, he had paintings, and he lived downstairs. So he was really a big influence on me. And he gave me this art
book and that’s where I first saw Kollwitz and Gross. And they were of course
in the back of the book, of the art book, with smaller pictures. They weren’t in the main pages. So that was really interesting to see. And they also had MAD
Magazine, which I love. Which was sort of like a transgression to look at these magazines in those days. I went to Parsons for graphic design and ended up majoring in photography, just because I thought the teacher was a very strong
photographer and interesting. I didn’t really know
what graphic design was and I didn’t know what
illustration was at all. It was just sort of wandering into it. But I like solving problems, and that’s what I found that in school. I was fired from a job
I had for a few months working at Esquire in their
promotion art department trying to do mechanicals. I was so nervous that the
ink spilled continually and it didn’t quite work out. When I was looking for a job, I got offers of freelance work. So slowly that built
up and it was something I didn’t know existed where you could solve a problem and do drawings. I loved it right from the start, and at some point decided
that the New York Times and those places would
be a great place to work, because I never was drawn to
having work hanging on walls. I think realizing the impression somebody has made on your life, and in
the case of my grandfather, he was a tough person and also a person who believed so strongly in fairness and that’s what I started
to see more about him. And I started to work for The Nation, and he was hard of hearing
and at that point very old, and people weren’t
talking to him that much. And he started to talk
about his union days and activities and what he did. And it was a mixture of someone
who was so abiding the law, it seemed to the letter,
even though he was Socialist in his ideas, but
he was a law abiding person who viewed himself and
was a true American. My grandfather came to America from occupied Poland in 1911. He and my grandmother had
gotten married in Poland but he left and he came here, and he got work as a pocket maker in a New York City garment factory. And that’s when he noticed
that things weren’t fair, that people had to work in sweatshops or had to work 70 to 80 hour work weeks and still didn’t have a living wage. So his union, he really loved his union, and he was very dedicated to it. It was called The Amalgamated
and it was a mixture, a blend, of people from
different countries. They fought for a living
wage and limited hours. I think first in 1914
they got the work week down to 50 hours and
they worked on it more. There’s always the presence of the union and his friends from the union, and the conventions, and everything that he was involved with as a union man because that was so important to him. And the whole family basically
worked in garment factories. My father who didn’t want to
be in the garment industry, ended up in the garment
industry, and was unemployed. Often on Christmas he would come home with the shears and that,
you know my mother said sometimes he would sit in
the chair just devastated. My grandfather who was
an advocate for freedom in the workplace was really
a dictator in his home life and he didn’t allow toys. He locked up, he put
the toys in a bookshelf, an enormous bookshelf behind
books, and he hid those. He also hid things he
valued, like if they got medals of honor or something like that. So everything was hidden. My uncle was rebellious;
he found the skates. He broke his arm the first time out and then he was worried about coming home. My mother let a doll go
out a trolley car window. It was made of paper, but he convinced her that she was too old for it. And the older daughter, Lilian, was bribed not to walk across the sidewalk with her friends which he
thought was very bad manners, and lost all her friends. So they had that kind of childhood. The mixture that they also dealt with was being from another place
and then coming to America and trying to be Americans,
and having an American family. And having Old World ways mixed
with who they then had to, and wanted, to be – they
wanted to be Americans. And it was important to
them to take part, to vote, but they were really happy to be citizens at the same time as they held
on to some of the tradition. So it was a matter of them
fitting in in some ways, and not fitting in in others, and having these kids who were American. For the artist books,
just about anything goes, because we’re going to build
a box for this project. And it’s going to be very time consuming and then there’s the cover,
and the paper texture, and how the text actually looks with it. I think the ideas come
from a number of places. The research adds to the idea, trying to paraphrase and
decide what it’s about. Playing around with it, I think, yields the most interesting stuff for me. It always starts out for me with doing rough little scribbles, always, and doing a number of them
and writing down words. And it’s the same thing with
an editorial illustration or book jacket or something like this. As far as the technique,
these are carved in linoleum and it seems, it’s a peculiar
way to have to make marks. It’s very indirect, but I think that some things that occur
spontaneously in prints are some things that I like. I like that you can make multiples and that you can switch
and do other colors and other things and continue with them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have to do a drawing and then carve it out. But for some reason it has it’s way of working out for me, I think. Sometimes there’s an area
that’s carved out too much and I want ’em to get that. So it means rolling it differently and pushing the paper in and
getting that with a spoon. So there are all these things that, I don’t want someone looking at it to know this stuff particularly, but there are all these things
that present difficulties. In some cases I haven’t
liked the expression, so then I’ve cut a different block and ripped up that part of the block, peeled it up, and placed
that in its place. This paper is St. Armand,
which is made in Canada. The paper’s made from recycled rags and that I think my
grandfather would like, that it’s made from recycled rags. Sometimes seeing the finished print and those things have
now been able to expand as far as getting in to
more textures and colors and all, with the printing. Cause the person who’s
printing is very sensitive to these things and we
work together very well and he’s a wonderful printer, and he’s always open to trying things. So we’ll try a different
paper or different color which can change things around. Digital technology is a whole other thing that has made certain
pictures possible to make. There’s one picture that I’ll show you where Aunt Theda who lived upstairs had a first husband who
was really a charmer and had a candy store underneath
the L on King’s Highway and would bring home
shopping bags full of candy. So then I thought, okay
make him out of candy. I didn’t know if I was
going to make his face out of candy and I went
to the lower east side that had economy candy,
had lots of candies, I have a bag of candy back there. So some of the old candies
of the road and Mary Janes and the rest of those
things sort of figured in to making him, to building that up. And that changed it. There’s one that is a house
that’s made of a girdle, also that’s another one that I’m fond of. Because my grandfather
squashed so many people into a tiny bungalow
and everywhere you look was another place for a foldable bed and it was just packed through. And the neighbors were not so
overjoyed with this family. And I just thought, okay either the house has to be made of elastic or the house has to be made of a girdle, maybe. And it had happened that my mother had several old girdles. I don’t know why she had her old girdles, but she did and I could go from there with the girdles and just
play around with them, hack windows out of it,
and it made a house. There’s a scene about the
open doors in that house and that there was no privacy, and everybody came and
went and all of this. And I thought, okay so
there’s no hinges on the door, the doors are unhinged, why
not hinge the family together? All these thing interest me. The idea of the Depression,
what happened in labor, what happened in the family, what happened with people down the block. All those things continue to, you know, get stuck in my head. The whole idea that I see what happened when someone was a child, a young child, can follow all the way to their mid 90s. That having to throw away
the only paper doll you have, like doesn’t get forgotten for 85 years. That kind of thing is, I find
interesting about people. It’s been just such an opportunity to dig into the characters and the stories that I’ve heard for years,
some of which are ridiculous. So the book is a combination of things. It’s about somebody who is an immigrant and came here and brought some of the ways from the Old World over with him. And yet, changed and progressed, and also fought for a union. His houses and his family, I guess, were places of happiness and peace in a lot of ways for
him, as was his union. So it’s about a particular person, but it’s also about an
experience that I think a lot of immigrant families have.

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