Lesley Dill returned to Tandem Press in August 2021 to begin a new body of prints following the opening of her monumental traveling exhibition Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me at the Figge Art Museum. (Click here for more information about the exhibition.)
These four new prints that Dill created in the Tandem Press studio relate specifically to her new body of work and focus on several daring and courageous early American abolitionists and religious figures including Dred Scott, Sojourner Truth, Mother Ann Lee, and others.
Dill wrote about many of the courageous people who appear in her images. Her descriptions are included below:
Mother Ann Lee (1736 to 1784)
One of the earliest figures I wanted to investigate and honor is Mother Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers. The illiterate daughter of a Manchester blacksmith, Lee came to lead a group of dissidents from various religions who were called the “shaking Quakers” for their ecstatic forms of worship. After suffering at the hands of English authorities for allegedly violating the tenets of the Church of England, Ann received a revelation from God telling her to immigrate to the American Colonies in 1774. Ann Lee became the leader of the United Society of believers (in Christ’s Second Appearing) and was thereafter called Mother Ann.
Mother Ann believed that all animate life was both female and male; therefore, God was manifest in both male and female forms. Mother Ann was the first female to receive the fullness of the Christ spirit in the Shaker religion. “It is not I who speak; it is Christ who speaks through me.” Through a series of visions, she became convinced that the Divine was available to anyone who would take the Christ Spirit into themselves, thus subverting the traditional role of the male clergy. The full embodiment of the Christ Spirit was something open to all who would be Shakers, and each individual was capable of communing directly with God.
Heavenly Mother Ann Lee
After earthly Mother Ann Lee died, her work was carried forward by a series of committed leaders. However, she was also among many figures who, after death, communicated spiritually to members of the Shaker community. Known as “instruments,” these Shakers received direct messages from Mother Ann as well as from Old Testament patriarchs, Native American spirits, and other figures from sacred and secular history. These messages often resulted in hymns and drawings and were thought of as “Spirit Gifts.” Only two surviving drawings represent Mother Ann Lee herself, while most of them show flowers, trees, birds, trumpets, and other representations of the natural and heavenly worlds. They express both joy and order. I find the study of these “gifts” to be an astonishing spiritual experience. Heavenly Mother Ann Lee, as a sculpture, is my private idea of a persona in evanescent yet tangible form. As an artist, I wanted to specifically embody this idea of inspiration that is so beautifully expressed in the Shaker drawings. Following the true Shaker tradition, images are often received communally by two people – one person receives a divine manifestation that the other transcribes into a drawing, song, or dance, so I always work in community and collaboration with other people.
The image here of the Blazing Tree was gifted to a young Shaker woman who drew it and attested to its visionary nature: “I Saw the whole tree as the angel held it before me as I ever saw a natural tree. I felt very curious when I took hold of it lest the blaze should torch my hand.” – Sister Cohoon, 1845
Lesley Dill, Lest the Blaze Should Torch my Hand: Heavenly Mother Ann Lee, 2022.
Screen print, relief, and collage with colored silver and gold leaf and thread. Edition of 24. 48 x 36 inches. Click to view.
Sojourner Truth (1797 to 1883)
Sojourner Truth is a heroine sewn inside America’s stain of slavery who escaped and shaped herself into a leader and a speaker of the truth before thousands. A one-time northern enslaved woman with eloquent speech, her words “Aren’t I a woman?” were misquoted into the imagined crude phrase “Ain’t I a woman?” She went on to be a free woman, fearless and forward: an Abolitionist, an Orator, a Visionary woman of deep spirituality, a Preacher, and a Woman at the very roots of the women’s rights movement. “I am a self-made woman.”
The following biography for Sojourner Truth comes from the Library of Congress exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship (1998).
Given the name Isabella at birth, Sojourner Truth was born in the year 1797, in Hurley, New York. She was enslaved for approximately twenty-eight years of her life. As “property” of several slave owners, when she was ten-years old, Isabella was sold for $100 and some sheep. Dutch was her first language, and it was said that she spoke with a Dutch accent for the reminder of her life. Although she was unable to read, Truth knew parts of the Bible by heart.
As an abolitionist and traveling preacher, Isabella understood the importance of fighting for freedom. After her conversion to Christianity, she took the name Sojourner Truth: “Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign to them, and Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the people.” This new name reflected a new mission to spread the word of God and speak out against slavery. As a women’s rights activist, Truth faced additional burdens that white women did not have, plus the challenge of combating a suffrage movement which did not want to be linked to anti-slavery causes, believing it might hurt their cause. Yet, Truth prevailed, traveling thousands of miles making powerful speeches against slavery, and for women’s suffrage (even though it was considered improper for a woman to speak publicly). In a speech given at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, Truth proclaimed that “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again.” It was here, too, that Truth gave her most famous speech, entitled, “Ain’t I a Woman.” This speech sternly chastises those who feel women and blacks are inferior. The speech, like her preaching, is eloquent and passionate.
Sojourner Truth has the distinction of being the first African American woman to win a lawsuit in the United States; the first was when she fought for her son’s freedom after he had been illegally sold. Later, when she was accused by a newspaper of being a “witch” who poisoned a leader in a religious group that she had been a part of, she sued the newspaper for slander and won a $125 judgement. Truth died at the age of 84, with several thousand mourners in attendance. In December of 1883, just after her death, The New York Globe published an obituary which read in part: “Sojourner Truth stands preeminently as the only colored woman who gained a national reputation on the lecture platform in the days before the [Civil] War.”
Lesley Dill, Sojourner Truth: Orator, Abolitionist, Feminist, 2022.
Screen print, relief, and collage with thread. Edition of 18. 27 x 20 1/2 inches. Click to view.
Dred Scott (1799 – 1858)
Here in the U.S., we owe much to the inexhaustible heroism of Dred and Harriet Scott. As illiterate enslaved people, they waged a legal battle for their freedom that is considered by many to have been an American Civil War catalyst. They made their way through a wilderness of legalities and refusals in order to be free. During their ten-year legal battle with the Saint Louis court system (beginning in 1847), they won, then lost, then refiled, and then lost, lost, lost. And then we all lost when Scott’s freedom suit went to the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling which said that he could not be free—Ever—because he was of African descent and should remain enslaved. This Scott v. Sanford decision would’ve made the entire USA a slave country in 1857. This aroused deep public outrage and exacerbated the tensions of pro- and anti-slavery factions between the North and South, pushing the country to the edge of civil war. This print reflects the twists and turns of their lives like a river finding its true course.
Lesley Dill, Dred Scott: Freedom Suit, 2022.
Screen print, relief, and collage with thread. Edition of 18. 32 1/4 x 20 1/2 inches. Click to view.
Some Early Visionary American Women Abolitionists
Dill celebrates the following American women abolitionists in this print:
Clara Burton (1821-1912)
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Sara Parker Redmond (1826-1896)
Amy Hester Reckless (1776-1881)
Angelina Grimke (1805-1879)
Lesley Dill, Some Early Visionary American Women Abolitionists, 2022.
Screen print, relief, and collage with colored silver and gold leaf and thread. Edition of 18. 16 1/2 x 22 inches. Click to view.