The fiber arts have long been a platform for political activism and social protest, and the folk art of Mary Milne fits well within that history. Beginning in the early 1980’s, Milne devoted much of her time to creating and exploring fabric art as a medium for societal change and progressive activist thinking. She juxtaposed the tactile, sensual and aesthetic qualities of the fabric with sharp social critique and somewhat taboo-for-the-times subject matter.
Her fabric-art-as-political-activism reached a peak with the Peace Ribbon Project of 1985. At the time, the nuclear arms race was the hot button political issue. Some 20,000 activists surrounded the Pentagon with a continuous ribbon of fabric banners, and the very first response that Peace Ribbon founder Justine Merritt received in her call for textile activists came from Mary Milne.
Whether focusing on peace, nuclear arms, the protection of Central American refugees, or re-imagining the Statue of Liberty, Milne’s work was an important stepping stone to the political activism still vibrant in the fiber arts community.
Pershing writes, “People frequently use the textile arts as metaphors for interrelatedness and the bringing together of disparate elements of society. People sometimes talk, for example, about the “social fabric” — meaning the complex, interwoven nature of social structure. Mary identified this and other commonly used needlework metaphors and turned them to her advantage.”