A maternal chess set
Match of the Matriarchs is my most recent body of work of mysterious animal-human hybrid wood sculptures. Featuring a sculpture group configured as a chess set, my female forms are carved with humor, sensitivity, and attention to the interplay of wood grain and color.
The genesis of my chess set was my solo show at New Bedford Art Museum in 2016. I created five ‘mermaids’ inspired by the history of ship prow carvings. I wanted to do more with the series, so I set myself the challenge of making an entire chess set. This idea allowed me to build on the concept of sculptures that interact directly with each other, while reflecting on the interactions among species that have nothing to do with us humans.
I read many natural history books such as Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staff, Octopus: A by Sy Montgomery, and Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. The existence of squid was discovered due to the scars on the sides of whales. This deep sea battle between the squid and the whale led me to create a team of cephalopods—octopus, squid and cuttlefish—battling against the cetaceans—orca, narwhal and elephant seal.
On the Cetacean side of the chess board, there is an Orca King i.e. Queen Regnant, Orca Queen (Consort), Bishop Narwhals, Knight Elephant Seals and Rook Orcas. On the Cephalopod side of the board, there is an Octopus King i.e. Queen Regnant, Octopus Queen (Consort), Bishop Cuttlefish, Knight Squids and Rook Octopus.
To learn about the game of chess, I researched Birth of the Chess Queen: A History by Marilyn Yalom and Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport by Jennifer Shahade.The original chess set was composed of King, Vizier/General, and other male military figures. The queen came onto the board around the same time that many powerful queens reigned in England, Russia and Spain. My set is maternal—I am thinking about family matriarchies, the realm of power in women's lives, how women wield power and the bonds between women in families. The Queens on both sides are the grandmothers, the bishops are the aunties, the knights are the daughters and the rooks are the mothers.
The most satisfying part of making this series was exhibiting the chess pieces in the art gallery and hosting chess games and matches. Allowing others to interact with the set and watching it change shape and configuration with each move has sparked my imagination for the possibilities of sculpture. I want to push those boundaries even further in my next series of work.