Visual artist Emily O’Leary (Austin, Texas) used the “sampler,” an antiquated commercial product developed for young women to demonstrate their command of needlework skills, as a form which approximates the female body at work. “The vignettes in my samplers are specific in detail but missing enough context for a viewer to be able to fit them neatly within a larger narrative, mirroring the lack of context typical of most of the extant historical samplers. Museums have thousands of samplers labored over by young women and girls, but usually the only information we actually have about the maker’s life is her name, her age, and the year her sampler was completed. There’s just the barest scaffold of details to try and hang a story on.”

Emily at work

Emily’s work in progress