For quite a while, local award-winning artist and photographer Astrid Reischwitz wanted to spin a tale into a visual journey influenced by her upbringing in a small farming village in Northern Germany, but never felt the time was right. Until last year – when her New Year’s resolution was fulfilled.
“Spin Club Stories: A Visual Journey through Tradition, Memory, and Identity,” written in both English and German with collaborators Karen E. Haas and Anika Kreft, was published by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany in 2022. Her monograph received a Silver placement in the 2023 PX3 | Prix de la Photography de Paris.
Astrid teamed up with writer Karen Haas, who is the Lane Senior Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, and historian Anika Kreft, who heads the Department of Contemporary History at the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum in Braunschweig, Germany.
Astrid’s first interaction came when she approached Anika for advice about old costumes and traditions in the area of Germany where her family lived.
Astrid was nervous about talking with Karen. However, she just called her out of the blue one day and asked her to contribute to the book. Karen, who is interested in local still-life images in family homes in Germany and how to connect the two different cultures, agreed to work with her.
The three women worked well together. Much of their time was dedicated to choosing the images. Astrid also enjoyed learning about the publishing world and working with the designers on some of the complicated photos of her embroidery, which is the focus of her book.
Spin Club Stories is really a homage to her mother and her grandmother, Astrid said. Her grandmother was a wonderful person and was a great influence on her. She was the keeper of the history in her family’s village where she maintained a local museum and gave tours while sharing stories of that area of Germany.
The Spin Club Stories book is divided into two sections – Stories from the Kitchen Table and Spin Club Tapestry – further authenticated by photos of family and fabrics.
Astrid created Stories from the Kitchen Table “to preserve and honor a fading way of life” in the small village where she grew up. “The hardship of farming and effects of World War II … can still be felt today.”
Astrid got the inspiration to create Spin Club Tapestry when she learned about an old tradition where village women got together regularly in “Spinneklümpes” (Spin Clubs) to “spin wool, embroider, and stitch fabrics for their homes.” She imagines them sharing family stories and tales as they worked, “the beautiful stories that lifted their spirits, as well as the stories of sadness, sorrow, and loss.”
Telling these tales, Astrid said, gives her “a chance for reflection and transformation. Memories and emotions intertwine into new stories.”
A big part of this book was influenced by the family fabrics that had been handed down from generation to generation. When Astrid’s mother gave her some spin club tablecloths, napkins, and wall hangings (some dating back to 1799) a few years ago, she wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do with them.
With time, Astrid was able to transform this tradition of storytelling into a visual journey by creating a composition image of new tapestries. By combining keepsakes from family life, “old and new photographs, embroidery, napkins, wallpaper, cloth, and other materials found from the village,” she was building “a world of memory, identity, place, and home.”
By following the stitches in these fabrics, she was able to “follow a path through the lives of [her] ancestors – their layout of a perfect pattern and the mistakes they made.” The patterns that Astrid has stitched herself “into the paper are only abstractions of the original designs, and represent fragments of memory.” Along the way, she added her own mistakes, as well.
By re-creating and re-imaging pieces of the embroidery, adding multiple photographs of her daughter, and interspersing pictures of pansies (the flowers, according to Astrid, that “represent the culture in Northern Germany where life is difficult what with the cold, the wet, and the stoicism of its inhabitants”) helped tell her family’s story. These visuals became a bridge connecting the past with the present with the future, ensuring that her legacy is always remembered.
Jean Hammond, who works with Astrid as a member of the Art Steering Committee at the Bedford Free Public Library, said that Astrid’s images used in “Spin Club Stories” “weave a beautiful and rich picture of past experience, customs, and culture. There is so much meaning in each one. I find myself exploring memories of women in my family and what they have entrusted to me.”