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Sampler (I Cannot)

On view

Sampler (I Cannot)

Artist: Elaine Reichek (American, born 1943)

Date: 2000
Medium: Embroidery on linen
Framed: 56 1/2 x 12 1/16in. (143.5 x 30.6cm)
Image: 56 1/2 x 12 1/16in. (143.5 x 30.6cm)
Inscribed: Inscriptions, recto (embroidery thread): -HENRY PEACHAM, MINERVA BRITANNIA, 1612 I cannot live with you- It would be life- And life is over there- Behind the shelf The sexton keeps the key to- Putting up Our life- his porcelain- Like a cup- Discarded of the housewife- Quaint- or broke- A newer Sevres pleases- Old ones crack I could not die with you- For one must wait To shut the other's gaze down- You- could not- And I- could I stand by- And see you freeze- Without my right of frost- Death's privilege? Nor could I rise- with you- Because your face Would put out Jesus'- That new grace- Slow plain- and foreign On my homesick eye- Except that you than He Shone closer by- They'd judge us- how- For you- served Heaven- you know, or sought to- I could not- Because you saturated sight- And I had no more eyes For sordid excellence As paradise And were you lost, I would be- Though my name Rang loudest On the heavenly fame- And were you- saved- And I- condemned to be Where you were not That self- were hell to me- So we must meet apart- You there- I here- With just the door ajar That oceans are- and prayer- And that White Sustenance- Despair -Emily Dickinson, #640, c. 1862 Verso, adhesive labels: upper left, Nicole Klagsrun Gallery label; lower left, on stretcher, TAMA/ 2243/ 11
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 2002.19
Label Text
Updated Version:

Elaine Reichek works in embroidery as a art medium to underline perceptions between craft and art, women’s traditional art forms and artistic expression, and the changing modes of communication in modern Western culture.

Sampler (I Cannot) contains a twelve-stanza poem by Emily Dickinson in its entirety. The poem, which is about the impossibility of two people coming together, is both intimate and candid. Reichek emphasizes this by using the color white to symbolize emptiness within the picture of a weeping eye, an image that she appropriated that was made several hundred years ago, one that could have been created by a 20th-century surrealist. It creates a haunting image similar to the effect that Reichek wanted to create. The illustration in her embroidery gives context to the viewer before they delve into the poem: “Because you saturated sight - / And I had no more eyes…”

Charlotte Zee
Hamilton College Intern, summer 2016

"I Cannot Live with You" is considered one of Emily Dickinson's best-known love poems, albeit one of disavowal and despair. Elaine Reichek unites Dickinson's text with an image she had found earlier in a book of Elizabethan emblems, Minerva Britannia. The 17th-century picture of a floating, weeping eye is surprisingly modern, even surrealistic, but it pairs well with Dickinson's words-"Because you saturated sight - / And I had no more eyes…" The union of image and text to illustrate non-union is, finally, heart-rending.

An artist with a conceptual bent, Reichek began creating works of art with needle crafts in the 1990s. In choosing her medium, Reichek comments on the history of young women's education through making samplers; celebrates traditional women's arts; and unveils biases in art-making that privilege heroic painting and sculpture over more "feminine" pursuits.

© Elaine Reichek