What keeps Chicago, Gelon and the
others going, is the incredible potential
the exhibit has for connecting women
with their past and present and with each
other. "Everyone goes in to see what she
wants to see. You can go into as much
depth as you need," says Gelon. In San
Francisco, the visitors came for something different. Gelon described it:
"We watched people standing in line
for hours talking to each other-total
strangers. There was a lot of crying and
hugging, but there was almost no noise
once you got inside the room. You could
hear a pin drop. There was this incredible
sense of sacredness about the piece that
people sensed. The curator told us there
was absolutely no vandalism of the exhibit—which is rare."
The exhibit space at UH/CLC is one of
the finest spaces available in the country,
according to Gelon, who feels that the
Houston audience will see the exhibit as
it was meant to be seen. "In a totally
darkened room, the porcelain shines and
the piece looks as if it's going to float,"
Oddly, neither Chicago, Gelon nor
anyone else who had worked on the project, had seen the work put together
before the San Francisco showing, so the
exhibit took shape before their eyes.
"I didn't go up for the installation in
San Francisco, so I asked Judy if she'd go
in with me to see it. We had a special
moment there, just the two of us. Judy
talks about how she was just a vehicle for
the project—but we felt that those historic women were there with us all along,"
Gelon said. The women working on the
project felt the same way. "Each woman
was responsible for one runner, and after
a while, they began to take on the characters they were working with. They'd leave
notes for each other saying 'Queen Elizabeth needs blue thread.' "
The audience too, promises to be an
interesting mix. "You get feminists, artists, historians, and then we get the embroidery guild and the stitchery club, the
women who are there with their magnifying glasses. We get business women, and
women who are working in the home.
And lots of men, too."
It's said that Susan B. Anthony came
to feminism by way of quilting bees, the
19th century version of consciousness-
raising groups. They were community
events where a woman could share her
talents with other women and tell her
story, away from the children and household duties.
If that's true, Houston is preparing for
the quilting bee of this century. The Dinner Party promises to connect Houston
women in a profound new way.
The Dinner Party Committee plans to put the fun into fundraising. $50,000 is needed
to pay the costs of shipping, installing, and administering the exhibit-and they have
unique ways to raise the money, needed well before opening day, March 9.
The Dinner Party exhibition honors 39 women with ceramic and embroidery place
settings, and the table itself rests on a Heritage Floor of porcelain tiles inscribed with
999 names of notable women. In order to raise nearly $30,000 of the total required,
the committee is asking individuals, groups, and businesses to sponsor either a place
setting, for $500, or a tile, for $10.
To date, 12 of the 39 place settings and 208 of the 999 floor tiles are reserved. The
committee suggests sponsoring a tile or plate as a gift. There are musicians, scientists,
scholars, suffragettes, and plenty of witches and goddesses to choose from.
$500 for a place setting may sound impossible to attain. But fun-the committee
says: Give a dinner party! If several friends planned a spaghetti supper honoring
Isabella d'Este, for example, invited 50 people to come at a $10 donation, the $500
would be there before the coffee was served-and the hostesses could share the cost of
the party. A Middle Eastern menu for Ishtar, a musicale for Ethyl Smyth, a Parisian
salon or costume party for Natalie Barney-and, of course, a barbecue honoring
Petronilla de Meath, who was burned as a witch.
The committee wants to call on professional clubs, women in medicine, law, art,
education-athletes, embroiderers, and students of lunar and goddess lore to combine
their efforts to honor the woman of their choice.
Donors will be honored with recognition on a panel in the photo-documentation
exhibit at Clear Lake, invitation to one of the festive openings before March 9, and ,
for those who give $500, a signed limited edition of the exhibition poster. An insert in
the brochure accompanying the exhibit will list the donors and the women sponsored
by them. All contributions are tax deductible.
The remaining historic women available for sponsorship are all described in The
Dinner Party, a book by Judy Chicago. Copies are on hand at The Bookstore at 1728
Bissonnet, where booksellers have volunteered to keep an updated list of all tiles and
plates sponsored. The Bookstore is open 10-6 Monday through Friday, 10-5 Saturday,
2-6 Sunday, and stays open till 8 every Wednesday night.
For program presentations, call Dean Calvin Cannon's office at UH/CLC 488-9236
or a representative of TACO (Texas Arts &Cultural Organization) at 527-8522. Slide
shows are available, and speakers will bring copies of Judy Chicago's books to sell as an
additional fundraiser. There are posters, postcards, and slides for sale, too-at UH/CLC
and at The Bookstore. Whatever your taste, the Dinner Party Committee is ready to
help—and the more fun it is, the more funds there will be to bring this historic exhibition to Houston.
THE LEGEND OF LADY GODIVA
If she were mentioned at all in 1060, she was "the wifexof the Earl of the Kingdom of
In his kingdom the earl and "his wife" founded and endowed a monastery at the
township of Coventry upon which he levied extremely heavy taxes. "The wife of the
earl" was strongly opposed to this exploitation; but, typical of the condition of women
of her time, had little authority upon which to act. As her only recourse she entreated
her husband so fervently to relieve the citizens of this inequitable burden that he made
her a bold challenge: he would reduce Coventry's taxes if she rode naked through its
To the earl's great astonishment, his wife made up in spirit what the law denied her
in power. Mounted on her steed and covered only by her long, flowing tresses, "the wife
of the earl" warned the townspeople to remain indoors and took her ride, after which
her husband promptly freed the town of all tolls.
For centuries the Godiva Procession has been the highlight of the Coventry Fair
which is held in honor of the courage of the wife of Leofric who, if he is mentioned
at all today, is "The husband of Lady Godiva."
An 1835 ink print of Lady Godiva (above) will be raffled during the First Annual
Women's Craft Fair. Drawing is Sunday, November 18 at 3 p.m. Proceeds will benefit
the Houston Area Women's Center.
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