Ellen Lesperance: Wednesday, May 18, 11:30-1:00, Lecture Hall 1

Female heroism is undersung, but Ellen Lesperance is determined to sing it—not only so it’s not forgotten, but with the hope that it might be catching. Go to her web site, and you immeditely hear the chants of the Women’s Peace Camp at the nuclear testing site Greenham Common.

Look at her paintings, outside the elevators at Seattle Art Museum, and you see they’re dot patterns in a grid on brownish paper: patterns for sweaters that, when worn—and however soft—might transform the individual wearer. Lesperance, originally from a hippieish family in Seattle’s U District and now living in the latter-day utopic city of Portland, is both wedded to and critical of collective idealism. She knows how it can hollow out over time, and how dogma or compromise can take over. But she plainly still believes in the sheer power of individual action. How to make it happen? That’s the spur of her work.

The tone of inspiration has become pretty rare in art. It’s fairly rare in the culture at large. Radical acts may remain, but the rousing spirit of radicalism is hard to find. Lesperance’s art actually includes everything from the archival photos she starts with to the titles she writes to the pattern paintings that hang on the wall to the sweaters she wants to be worn. One of her own inspirations was visiting the Asylum for Radical Feminism in Santa Fe, which she found harrowing: The feminists were very few in number, and essentially impoverished. But they had stories to tell; that’s where she learned of Greenham Common.-Jen Graves, The Stranger

“I like the idea that, for example, through the recreation of a Greenham sweater, a new ‘wearer’ might be beckoned. I also have a particular interest in assigning valor to young women from the Pacific Northwest like Rachel Corrie and Beth Horehound O’Brien, women who have sacrificed their lives fighting the good fight.”

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