Closeted Love III by Emery Kate Tillman

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Closeted Love III by Emery Kate Tillman

400.00

Emery Kate Tillman
Closeted Love III
Cyanotype on vintage handkerchief,
Framed 16” x 20”
$500

"On paper, I had what might be considered an ideal childhood, minus the trauma of living through Hurricane Katrina. I cannot discount the privileges I feel lucky to have been raised with—I had parents who were kind and generous, and I received a good education. Admittedly, my parents were also very conservative, and my town undeniably fell under the same umbrella. So despite my privileges, my upbringing not only shielded me from being exposed to words like “lesbian,” but also fostered a playground culture, in which “gay” was used as an insult. I will never forget the horror of being called “gay” in the 8th grade by someone I had considered a friend. Being called gay not only became one of the worst moments I ever experienced throughout middle school, but was even more difficult to consistently deny, because it was true. To this day, I have never denied anything harder than someone else’s proclamation of my own sexuality than I did when I was 14. The experience was in fact so paralyzing, that it took me almost five years to timidly whisper, “I think I like women,” to my best friend; eight years to tell my parents; and ten years for me—for myself—to finally feel comfortable in my sexuality. As a lesbian who felt uncomfortable being honest about my identity for so many years, I immediately connected to Eleanor and Hick’s letters, which I feel lucky to have discovered by chance on a blog. Letters—especially love letters—have always been important to me. In boarding school, letters served as my main source of communication with my parents, and was undeniably informed by remembering their own letter-writing days. Growing up, my dad would travel for work overseas, and be gone for a month or so at a time, during which he would write my mom almost daily. When my mom was pregnant with both me and my older sister, my dad would write letters to us before we were born. As sappy as they may have been, these letters have been kept, and represent my personal appreciation for the art of letter writing despite physical separation. I found out about Eleanor and Hick’s love letters by chance on a blog I read, and I immediately knew I had to make work about them. I didn’t only relate to Eleanor’s story, but I also profoundly looked up to her as one of the most remarkable First Ladies in U.S. History. Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the level of accountability of the position from being a role rooted in domesticity, to one that put the First Lady at the forefront of politics, particularly advocating for human and women’s rights. When I found the letters from Eleanor to Hick, I realized how much I looked up to Eleanor. Her work as First Lady showcases her natural propensity towards empathy, also reflected her letters to Hick. These letters reveal the two highly influential women in moments of candor, during which they didn’t have to put on an act for anyone else, and felt free to be whom they were, and could only be do on paper. Eleanor and Hick used letter writing as a means of escaping the confines of reality, and feeling connected to one other when being together physically wasn’t an option. I hope one day I find someone who I can write over 3,500 letters to and share the connection that Eleanor and Hick shared. A world of love, " -Emery Kate Tillman

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A cyanotype print on a vintage handkerchief of a 1933 letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to her lover Lorena Hickock.

“March 5, 1933 Hick my dearest, I cannot go to bed to-night without a word to you. I felt a little as though a part of me was leaving to-night, you have grown so much to be apart of my life that it is empty without you even though I’m busy every minute. There are strange days & very off to me but I’ll remember the joys & try to plan pleasant things & count the days between our times to-gether! To begin my diary, after you left I went to supper taking Fjr., & John, Mama &; Betsey &; we were followed by F.D.R & James just before the boys left. I went to the station with them & left the Secret Service man at home. Saw the boys onto the train. Returned, had a short talk with F.D.R James & Betsey. Tommy came &; we arranged to-morrow’s work. At ten Meggie & I took her to the gate & I thought of you & “Prinz”. She seemed very happy & said everyone had a grand time, also that you looked “stunning” dressed up! I then went back & devoted a quarter of an hour to talking to Mama, then listened to F.D.R broadcast, sorted mail & am now preparing for bed. So endeth my first Sunday. I’ll call you to-morrow night & this should reach you Tuesday a.m. Oh! Darling, I hope on the whole you will be happier for my friendship. I felt I had brought you so much discomfort & hardship to-day & almost more heartache than you could bear & I don’t want to make you unhappy. All my Love & I shall be saying to you over thought waves in a few minutes — Goodnight my dear one Angels Guard thee God Protect Thee My love enfold thee All the night through. Always yours, E.R.”

Emery Kate Tillman is a current MFA candidate at Louisiana State University. They received their BA in Fine Arts as well as Communications from the College of Charleston. Their work has been shown across the United States, as well as in the Czech Republic and Thailand. Tillman focuses on queer and gender politics throughout her work often utilizing their own experiences of growing up queer in the south in direct conversation with historical texts that explore the notion of grief and the grieving process; specifically when the grieving process is near the end. They are interested in the conversation between intimacy and grief. Tillman references language throughout their work often going back to the love letters shared between Eleanor Roosevelt and her partner Lorena Hickock, over the course of 30 years the two shared over 3,500 love letters. Eleanor and Hick used letter writing as a means of escaping the confines of reality and feeling connected to one other when being together physically wasn't an option. Tillman uses multitudes of mediums but is drawn to neon in combination with soft sculptures and embroidery work in reference to women’s handiwork and traditional craft practices. It is important that there is a dialogue of the materials used to create a cohesive piece. One of the reasons Tillman is drawn to neon is the aspect that in a space neon touches everything in its surrounding similar to how grief is all compassing. The subtle interactions of how past grief effect the present day and how we go about the day is what Tillman hopes to capture.