Crossings: Abigail Was Here- a public art project by Kathleen Bitetti
Kathleen Bitetti is a U.S. artist based in Boston, Massachusetts and she was an artist in residency at the Quincy Historic Society from 2005 to 2013 (Massachusetts). Quincy is the city were she grew up. Bitetti has been focusing a large part of her research on Abigail Adams and her life with her husband John Adams. They are probably the first U.S. “power couple”. “Crossing: Abigail was Here” is Bitetti’s third work major work about Abigail. Research, unassuming and often undetectable autobiographical references, historical references, contemporary sociopolitical issues, and sewing are very important to Bitetti and comprise the foundation she builds on for all of her artworks. This work is no exception.
Abigail and her family’s history was (and still is) ever present to those living Quincy. By reading Abigail’s letters, diary, the Adams Papers, and other scholars’ research, Bitetti discovered that in 1784 Abigail traveled to England due to John being appointed the U.S. Ambassador to France. Abigail arrived in London on July 21st and soon left for Paris on August 8th. She returned to England in 1785, when John Adams was appointed the first U.S. Minister to the Court of St. James. Abigail lived in London from 1785 to 1788 and she also traveled to Devonshire in the summer of 1787.
Bitetti selected several of the places Abigail stayed, lived, and visited in London and Devonshire (as it was called in Abigail's time) and left an art work at those sites some time during May 8-15, 2010. Each of the pieces consisted of a large clear plastic bag that held a white envelope that contained historical information and a red velvet “bag” that Bitetti had sewn. The inside of the velvet “bag” had fabric that had images of U.S. President Obama and the American flag. The red velvet was chosen to represent Abigail’s courage and to also represent her crimson furniture she brought with her and placed the Oval Room of the then still underconstruction White House to hold her first reception (a tradition that all First Ladies continue to this day). The images of U.S. President Barack Obama not only highlight the historic importance of the U.S.’s first African American President, but they also directly referenced Abigail’s abolitionist beliefs and her strong support of economic equality and women’s rights. She was years ahead of her time.
Key objects were placed inside the bag. A bookmark gave historical information about Abigail and symbolized her love of reading and her belief that women were entitled to an education (This was not the case during her lifetime). Several smaller white bags were also placed inside the velvet “bag” and they contained tea, charms, a commemorative pin of the U.S. postal services’ Abigail Adams Stamp, and a small plastic container of water. Bitetti chose to include a packet of the brand of tea that was thrown into the sea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party to not only reference that important historical event that occurred during Abigail’s lifetime and was carried out by people she knew, but to also reference the current “U.S. Tea Party” movement. One can not help to think that Bitetti wants people to compare and assess the two movements on their merits. The history of tea is one worthy of further investigation as it is woven with wars, uprisings and corporate espionage.* The small plastic container held water from the Old Harbor of Boston. This further underscored Abigail’s travels and the Boston Tea Party. It also referenced Bitetti’s love of the ocean. She has always lived in walking distance to the sea. The charms also have multiple meanings: The lady bug is Massachusetts’ official state bug and symbolizes good luck; the ship charms once again reference travel and trade, but also reference Bitetti’s immigrant past as both sides of her family immigrated from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1900’s via ship; and symbolically the dragonfly in “the west” has negative connotations, while in “the east” it has positive connotations. This particular charm is also a homage to Bitetti’s long standing patron: Sophia Solar Michalski.
This work was part of The London Biennale which was founded in 1998 by David Medalla. The London Biennale has evolved into an artist community loosely based around London and the biennale events that take place there. The Biennale organization is not restricted to London. For more information: www.londonbiennale.org
Bitetti is slated to "Perform" "Crossings- Abigail was Here: Boston" in Fall/Winter 2016 by marking some of the places Abigail lived and frequented in Boston.
For more information on Kathleen and/or let her know you found one of the works, visit: www.KathleenBitetti.com
* For the record Bitetti is an avid tea drinker and not a coffee drinker like so many Americans are. She recommends the book on Tea: For all the Tea in China- How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose