bagley, fox and beginnings
The stars we are given. The constellations we make. That is to say, stars exist in the cosmos, but constellations are the imaginary lines we draw between them, the readings we give the sky, the stories we tell.
I want you to know more about our beginning, the earlier parts, the time before this most recent beginning when we clicked buttons to make photographs flicker and products ready for your perusal and purchase.
I want to tell you about our name and how the first parts of this fell into place.
For a bit of time in the early 2000's I lived along a stretch of the Blackstone River in a former mill town named Woonsocket. We'd arrived there while searching for our own piece of the hulking, iconic mill architecture that somehow still offered promise, life promise more than spatial promise or perhaps life promise through spatial promise. Those buildings have always held that potency and we earnestly believed that the light and lines of our 1880's building could transform the architecture of our daily needs and wants.
That promise mostly went unrealized and that belief steadily shifted but the Blackstone river changed me. That river became my portal to what once happened along its path and the many stories that culminated in those beautiful buildings becoming ghostly empty, save for promise and light. That river offered meaning in an untethered place at an untethered time. I poured over historical records, went spelunking for abandoned treasures and drew the same gritty skyline ad infinitum.
Just beyond our corner lot, the water jagged sharply to the North before disappearing over the horizon line as Woonsocket Falls. An unsightly dam was built into the Falls in the 1950's but a century prior, this swift current had been good fuel for the burgeoning textile economy.
An hour to the North and a hundred and sixty years earlier, Sarah Bagley had fled her family's New Hampshire farm for the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. She, too, sought promise in this architecture with its steady hum of power looms and an explosive new economy. It was 1845 and mill owners scoured the countryside recruiting young girls, like Sarah, to work the looms. They offered these eager women a litany of promises about education and culture, none of which held truth. As disappointment mutated into opposition, Sarah Bagley helped organize the first all-women's labor reform movement- a gaggle of loom operatives-and became editor of a publication that documented their outcry, vision and demands. This publication was known as the Voice or Voice of Industry.
I didn't think about Sarah Bagley very often for the fifteen years between first reading her story and meeting Sally Fox last April. I won't pretend that there was instant cosmic connection relating the two but after several months of drawing and re-drawing the model of how this work might take shape, Sarah Bagley and Sally Fox found company next to one another on sticky notes tacked to my studio wall under the affinity of courage.
Sally is no stranger to a certain kind of fame. Stories of her abound as she is, indisputably, one of the most important breeders of organic, naturally colored cotton in the world. This you can read about; this is not difficult to know.
Without meeting her, what you can't really know is the quiet reckoning of her shared company, what it feels like to be next to this woman whose quirky habits, piercing intellect and raw humanity coalesce, brilliantly, as next level ferocity.
Sally Fox can't help but change you- even slightly- once you've spent mere minutes listening to the high pitch of her voice making song from sentences. This happens without permission and is elusive elixir.
During our first meeting, I sat at her kitchen table unaware of how she would influence the next part of my life, sipping twig tea while she tallied the pounds of cotton yarn lined up like totems along the table’s edge. She’d given me the seat with a view of the valley- she’d insisted on it- her sheep just outside the window, the cleared winter cotton field waiting patiently by the road.
We would do this repeatedly over the next few months, my driving to her farm to buy yarn, taking a walk in the field that would then be planted, sharing stories both ginger and raucous as our transactions becamemore like friendship and Sally’s work became the driving force behind both warp and weft on my loom.
It wasn’t until the cotton bloomed that I understood Sally with all of the poetry she deserves. The bravest part of Sally Fox, the courage that I cling to as testament, is born from her unwavering devotion to falling in love with the opening of cotton flowers year after year after year whether they return that love in yield or not.
Meeting Sally Fox brought the story of Sarah Bagley back to me. I keep their names next to one another on my studio wall. Kindred. At least for this story and this beginning.