Jeremy Sanders

Alternative Life
Handwoven cotton, pigmented ink on cotton
24 x 24”
2010

This overshot coverlet is based on "The Checkered Game Of Life," which was the first board game printed by Milton Bradley in 1860. The imagery has been replaced with Masonic iconography from "Morals and Dogma, Southern States edition," circa 1871, and the Rider-Waite tarot deck from 1909.

Jeremy Sanders

Works in Exhibition:

Alternative Life
Handwoven cotton, pigmented ink on cotton
24 x 24”
2010
(Close-up and installation view)

Alternative Life

The Checkered Game of Life was the first board game created by lithographer Milton Bradley in 1860 when his clean-shaven portrait of Lincoln went out of fashion after the President grew his famous beard. The game board was a variation of the standard checkerboard, with illustrations directing players from “Infancy” to “Happy Old Age.” Like many 19th century games it had a strong moral message, and the boards illustrations depicted “virtues and vices,” including suicide, bravery, gambling, and industry. The game remained in print until The Game of Life supplanted it in 1960.

Free Masonry is a fraternal organization dating back to the 16th century in Western Europe. The Masonic order upholds strong moral and metaphysical ideals, which are loosely based on architectural equipment used in the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. Comprised completely of men, this secret society was instrumental in the formation of the United States of America during the revolutionary war. George Washington was a Free Mason, as were most other politicians of the era. Brothers and critics alike have characterized Free Masonry as a “system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”

Overshot weaving became popular in the United States at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, and remained prevalent through the early 20th century. Simple to weave, yet complex in it’s visual patterning, overshot weaving was favored by weavers because it yielded thick, reversible, patterned cloth.

The piece conflates these various 19th century cultural products into one poignant juxtaposition. The “lithographs” are appropriated directly from Morals And Dogma, an American book on Free Masonry printed in 1871. Superimposed onto so-called women’s work, the Masonic text and imagery are “queered” by the conflicting context. Layered with the moralistic board game, “Alternative Life” calls into question the gendered insinuations put forth by our founding fathers. Furthermore, taken out of context, the Masonic text and imagery suggest sexual fetish practices that are likely in conflict with the intended moral codes. (Secret Master, Knight of the Brazen Serpent).

The Finished piece is made to replicate actual modes of production in the 19th century: overshot weaving, appliqué, and lithography. This implies an unknown maker, who had access to knowledge of both “women’s work” and exclusively male “secret” iconography. Perhaps this maker was queer or transgender, navigating an alternative life path through a highly polarized Civil War era society.

- Jeremy Sanders