Welcome to Our Home

Anna Nasi

The quilt atop my childhood bed has given warmth to me and three generations of women in my family. Its lace overlay has torn, its doily appliqué has yellowed, and its once colorful fabric squares have faded and pilled. But it wears these signs of age with grace. I’ve memorized its intricacies, its tears, and its smell. I know which squares are the softest and which the roughest, and I often run my fingers over its intricate stitches, imagining a great-great-aunt of mine choosing each fabric and trim with care, unaware that her distant niece would one day notice.

Whether embroidered, knit, quilted, sewn, woven, collaged, beaded, braided, dyed, or anything else, textiles are, in essence, objects of care. My great-great-aunt touched each stitch of the quilt I love so dearly. Though I never met her, I feel connected to her through this object. Another family matriarch, my grandma Linda, passed away when I was 16 but, in the years I was lucky to spend with her, she taught me to sew. A craft she practiced with skill over many years became something we shared. Now I continue that tradition to celebrate an impactful woman in my life and express myself creatively.

The personal, intimate, delicate, and human characteristics of textiles I find both beautiful and meaningful are also features that have anchored them to domesticity and made them largely invisible in the fine art world for so long. As a woman coming of age in the 21st century, I’ve chosen to inherit the craft in a way that looks very different from the women before me who honed it and passed it down as a necessity of domestic life. This history, despite its complicated and often frustrating nature, empowers women who create textiles to connect generations and use their craft as a vehicle for storytelling. So why haven’t textiles and their makers always been welcome in fine arts spaces?

The word “welcome” signifies an invitation, an exclamation, a greeting, a pleasantry, or a state of being. It decorates the banner hanging at the MFA’s main entrance. But what does it mean to truly feel welcome? In the art world, who and what are welcomed? “Welcome to Our Home”: these words span the top of Miriam Schapiro’s 1983 work of the same name, which is currently on view in the exhibition “Tender Loving Care: Contemporary Art from the Collection.” The artwork visualizes the unique and profound female connection to textiles and, like many of Schapiro’s works, embraces women past and present in fine arts spaces.

A painting of many small houses, hearts, teapots, and suns, with a large dress in the middle and the saying "Welcome to Our Home" over the dress.
Miriam Schapiro, Welcome to Our Home, 1983. Oil on fabric and canvas. Anonymous gift. Reproduced with permission.

Schapiro (1923–2015) was trained as a painter before evolving her practice and pioneering a new feminist mode of creating she called femmage, which combines different textiles made and owned by women with painting. Her work places textile art in conversation with modern painting, uplifting women’s creative expression as valuable in its own right, and one piece of an important puzzle that has shaped contemporary textile art.

When you approach Welcome to Our Home, you may notice it’s overwhelmingly pink. You may also see multiple references to domestic life, including images of houses, teacups, doilies, and a pregnant figure with arms outstretched and wearing an apron. Schapiro’s powerful femmage makes me feel welcome; it reminds me of the extraordinary women in my family and the beautiful, meaningful things they’ve created.

Reflecting on each element Schapiro included, I had a realization similar to the one I experienced after watching Greta Gerwig’s recent film Barbie: our behaviors, activities, and emotions as women have not always been ours to choose. Instead of writing off the act of embroidery, cooking, or even liking the color pink as girly or domestic (words often synonymous with weakness), I—and Schapiro before me, and Gerwig today—embrace and respect women’s skills and powers.

Women’s empowerment can take many forms, including wearing pink, being a mother, having a robust career, being a textile artist, or a combination of any—or none—of the above. In her book The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, psychotherapist and art historian Rozsika Parker interviews Kate Walker, a feminist textile artist and contemporary of Schapiro’s. Of her embroidery Walker says, “I have never worried that embroidery’s association with femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience may subvert my work’s feminist intention. Femininity and sweetness are part of women’s strength.... Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability.”

Schapiro’s femmages honor the strength of a long legacy of women working with fiber and thread. They use the iconography of female traditions to create visual experiences that connect women from across eras. The artist doesn’t attempt to solve these complicated histories, nor does she suggest a universal existence for women. She instead metabolizes the very symbols and colors that patriarchal systems have assigned to women throughout history and reframes them as powerful, connecting them to form a complex, multifaceted portrait of womanhood. This is not to say that there’s one tangible definition for womanhood—far from it. Rather, in a world where those who identify as women are so often marginalized, we can use our gender and the many complicated experiences it creates as uniting threads.

After watching Barbie I stood in line to wash my hands in the movie theater bathroom. To my right I saw a mother waiting for her daughter. We looked at each other—she was in a fabulous pink suit and I wore a pink T-shirt and sweatpants—and smiled. At that moment I felt welcome. We were different ages, and her memories of Barbie may have been completely different than mine, but I like to think we both found ourselves in that theater because of a shared female history. It’s a history uniquely ours as women to relate to or reject, honor or reinvent.

This same history empowers art by so many women textile artists whose work is thought-provoking, relatable, emotional, and, most of all, welcoming. When I look at Welcome to Our Home, I feel it makes room for women textile makers in fine arts spaces, and with that, I feel Schapiro herself encouraging different mechanisms of empowerment. There’s a place for new dialogue in the presence of this work; here we can care for the women artists who have been excluded in the past and accurately contextualize their textiles today.


Anna Nasi is in her fourth year at Northeastern University, where she studies Art History and Global Fashion Studies with a minor in Marketing. In summer 2023 she was an MFA Pathways intern in the Department of Contemporary Art.