Alison Collins



Cloth, hair, steel

Courtesy of the artist
Jutting from the wall is Alison Collins’s giant bustle skirt—an ode to the hallmark of constrained Victorian femininity. Using clothing as metaphor, Collins has created a statement on both the suppression of Victorian women and the personal expression that could exist even within those restrictions. Embroidered on the skirt in human hair are lines from the poem “Bring Me the Sunset in a Cup,” by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), which is a lesson in the ultimate impossibilities of attempting to measure out or contain the grandness of nature:

Bring me the sunset in a cup,
Reckon the morning’s flagons up,
And say how many dew;
Tell me how far the morning leaps,
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadth of blue!

Collins’s work speaks to both the restriction of women’s public roles in the 19th century and the solace of creative liberation that could be achieved by poets like Dickinson, who lived much of her life as a near-recluse but was a productive writer, secretly producing hundreds of poems. In Victorian mourning etiquette, women braided and wove locks of hair from a beloved, living or deceased, into jewelry. Collins contrasts this deeply feminine enterprise, with the skirt’s undergirding structure of steel, a material she frequently uses for its “association with industry, masculinity, and permanence.”