Maypole, Nebraska City
This Maypole stands as an interactive installation incorporating performance, video, 2-D works and sculpture. Depending on its location, the exhibition changes, though each time challenging social norms of gender and sexual identity through referencing the political, social and spiritual histories associated with the Maypole.
In May 2017, for the first iteration of the installation, I worked with sex writer and educator Leandra Vane. Leandra’s work tackles topics including sexual identity, body identity and sexual fantasy. Leandra introduced our audience to a historic figure named Ida Craddock. Craddock was an advocate for women’s rights in the late 1800s and was very open about the needs, desires and rights of women especially as it pertained to sex. She offered counseling to married couples both in person and by mail. Much of her counseling encouraged healthy sex and it often advocated for treating women as equals in bed. By age 45 she had been given a 3 year sentence which, felt to her, like a life sentence. She decided to take her own life the day before reporting to prison in 1902.
There is a twist to her story. Despite her writing, which was very ahead of its time and which was very popular, she claimed to have an angel for a husband. She claimed that much she knew and learned came from her experience with her husband. This complicated the way people understood Craddock as it potentially discredited everything she produced.
Leandra read the suicide note of Craddock while dressed in a period costume. After finishing the reading, she read from Trophy Wife--a nonfiction account of her own personal experiences of finding her identity. Between the two readings, Leandra changed into a more contemporary outfit representing her own choices.
Looking back to the symbolism of the Maypole in the early 1600s, its purpose was to celebrate the change of season, but it also was a period of great sexual license. Attitudes towards sexuality were more open—gender boundaries were not so rigid and sexual openness was celebrated. Puritans in the mid 1600s banned the Maypole and also any openness towards sexuality. Today issues of sexuality and gender identity continue to be seen as threatening by many in our society, the Maypole provides a platform for discourse around these topics and stands as a stage in the gallery for programming.