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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Margaret Parker

When: February 26, 2024

Margaret Parker
Margaret Parker

In this episode, AADL Talks to Margaret Parker. Margaret has been working as an artist for seven decades. She talks about her parents’ influence on her desire to become an artist and the evolution of her artistic development, from working in different mediums to confronting social justice issues in her work. Margaret talks about her time with the Michigan chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art and her commitment to bring public to Ann Arbor through her work on the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

For more information, see our digital collections related to Margaret Parker, or visit the artist's website.



  • [00:00:08] AMY CANTU: Hi, this is Amy.
  • [00:00:10] ELIZABETH SMITH: This is Elizabeth and in this episode, AADL talks to Margaret Parker. Margaret has been working as an artist for seven decades. She talks about her parents influence on her desire to become an artist, and the evolution of her artistic development from working in different mediums to confronting social justice issues in her work. Margaret talks about her time with the Michigan chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art and her commitment to bring public art to Ann Arbor through her work on the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. We are here today talking with artist Margaret Parker. We usually just start by asking, where did you grow up and what brought you to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:47] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I grew up in Illinois. My family came from central Illinois, and they moved up to Chicago during the war. My parents did, and then we lived just north of the city and went back into Chicago to go to the art museums and everything else like that. Both of my parents were busy doing art projects all the time, and that's all I wanted to do. I was looking forward to that happily, and I've been doing it ever since.
  • [00:01:22] ELIZABETH SMITH: Your parents were both artists is that correct?
  • [00:01:25] MARGARET PARKER: Yes.
  • [00:01:26] ELIZABETH SMITH: Did that inspire you to become an artist from an early age?
  • [00:01:30] MARGARET PARKER: Yes, because they were having so much fun. They were just doing what they wanted to do, and they were experimenting. They were always trying new things, and they both worked. My mother taught art school in the local high school. My father was a carpenter, and on the weekends he made whatever he had in mind making, and it was just a great adventure to watch what they were going to do, what was going to come out next.
  • [00:02:05] AMY CANTU: What medium did they work in? What did they do?
  • [00:02:07] MARGARET PARKER: Well my mother was painting mainly, so she was painting in watercolor, and she would, she loved to go out into the countryside or into the town and sit herself down and spread out her paints and start painting, and whoever came along and talked to her or watched or whatever, she didn't mind at all, and so I think she loved being out in the community and doing what she loved to do. That was very inspiring for me, and it also made it seem like painting was just going to come right out of you like that. It didn't always come out like that for me, but I found other ways of reaching that same goal, and my father was interested in photography, so he was often taking pictures in town, or he took a lot of pictures of Chicago when they were first living there, and he would print the photos at home, and it's one of my earliest memories is getting up early on Saturday morning and watching my dad print the images and then enlarge them and he had them a larger and I thought all this stuff is so cool. Then he also made mobiles, which are things that hang, are suspended from the ceiling and they move around, and he loved making those, and so they were all around our house, and then there were also stables that we had a foundation sitting on a table and then everything would move around that center point. There was no shortage of stuff that needed to be made.
  • [00:04:06] ELIZABETH SMITH: What brought you to Ann Arbor initially?
  • [00:04:08] MARGARET PARKER: I went to school for two years in Vermont. I went to Bennington in Vermont, and it was a very interesting place to go. The art teachers were all showing in New York, which was a huge thrill to go into the city and see what they were doing. But it was a long ways from home, and so my junior year, I transferred to Michigan to be closer to home, and I didn't really look too deeply into what Michigan had to offer, but they did have an art school, and I didn't really want to go into the art school. I wanted to do more literature, theater. I wanted to do a broader range of things, and so that's what I did. But I loved the town. I loved the way the art school or the university reached out into the town and became part of the town, and this was the '60s when we were just, everybody was just. Wacky, crazy, and I thought this is more like it.
  • [00:05:16] AMY CANTU: How would you describe the art scene at that time and how did it change over the years?
  • [00:05:22] MARGARET PARKER: Just being a junior in college, I wouldn't say it takes a while to learn what the art scene is, and there were not that many galleries to show your work. People were doing things on their own, just, you know, and showing each other and sometimes showing at the few places in the university where there was space to show things, and so I was wandering along that path basically. I felt like there was so much that I wanted to do, it wouldn't hurt if I did just whatever the next thing was, it came along.
  • [00:06:04] ELIZABETH SMITH: You had an interest in theater? Dance and opera?
  • [00:06:08] MARGARET PARKER: Yeah. Music, theater, dance, opera all of that, and experimental. I was very interested in experimental theater and street theater and gonzo things, and there are lots of good gonzo things going on then in fact, it's really too bad that they've dissipated and now we're going along at a certain prescribed rate of things. I don't think that's really how the most exciting art is made. I think art needs to be surprising.
  • [00:06:48] AMY CANTU: For the opera and dance and theater, did you work with the university? Did you just work in the community? Where did you learn your design, and where did you get to practice?
  • [00:06:57] MARGARET PARKER: When I was at Bennington, which was a very small school, it was also a women's school, so we had to be imaginative, and so I did took a couple of theater classes there in a play writing class. I really wanted to be a play-writer. I wasn't too good at that. But anyway, that didn't matter so much, and then one semester, they have a chance for you to go out and get a job. I got a job at Harvard's Loeb Drama Center. They don't really have drama classes at Harvard either. They have a whole theater for the kids to use. I thought that's nice. I was an apprentice to the designer at the theater. Every theater piece that they put on, I had some job lighting, or set or costumes. That was great and it was a fully developed theater. I was using all of the big lamps and the huge stage curtain and all that stuff. That was very exciting. Now when I came to the University of Michigan, I was looking for a place to experiment and the theater school just didn't appeal to me. It was too narrative, too realistic everything was too ordinary. But there were lots of groups that were doing things in the streets. The Renaissance Center was one of a Renaissance, what did we call it? It was a summer Renaissance festival, and they often did things right in the street, and so I got the job of designing the sets. The costumes, they didn't have any sets, really. One of their shows that I did was Alice Through the Looking Glass, and everybody had to change their costumes right on the sidewalk where they were playing.
  • [00:09:20] MARGARET PARKER: That was part of the challenge. The people, the players that were in one scene they were the guys that just make mumblely sounds. In the next scene they untie the bow and the top of their head, and their flower all comes out of their head. How the costumes were used and how they were held together and how they projected themselves was all part of the show. I thought that was a lot of fun. Then I designed for one of the, well, it was a student production of Camelot, which was fun because it had all those kings and queens and sub kings, queens, things like that. But pretty quickly I realized that I would rather be involved at a different level, at a level where I had more control over it because I was always having someone tell me what the set should look like or what the costumes should look like, and these characters should be like this, and that should be like that. Anyway, that didn't really interest me, but eventually I got a job with the U of M School of Opera, School of Music and working on their opera. I designed the sets for about five of their operas. That was really exciting because I loved the music. That's when I began to realize that the quality of the music was something that really was important to me. These parts of things began to come to the top of my head as to what I really liked and what I really wanted to be a part of. I would say that musicality was something that I incorporated into everything that I did pretty much early on.
  • [00:11:31] ELIZABETH SMITH: When was it in your career that you began exhibiting in public galleries and exhibitions and things like that?
  • [00:11:37] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I was quite lucky because I found people that wanted to show my work. One of the first places I showed it was at in the Michigan Union. There was a gallery there for a short time, and that was exciting. I showed it at Borders Bookstore. That was one of my first shows. That was exciting because everybody went there. A lot of those pieces sold. That was exciting. I won't say how much people paid for them, but I was going step by step. Then a friend of mine arranged for three of us to have a show and the shows, they were shown at the Michigan Union once or maybe it was the North Campus site. I think it was out at North Campus. Then they showed it in Muskegon at the art museum and I believe in Bay City. Those were two museums. By the time I started looking back at everything that I'd done, I'd completely forgotten that I'd shown in two museums already. You know how it is when you under-appreciate yourself, you forget that you've shown in museums. Write everything down really carefully, because computers, schmooters, you might need to have everything written down.
  • [00:13:08] ELIZABETH SMITH: What was your early work like, what was your medium and what were you representing?
  • [00:13:12] MARGARET PARKER: Well, when I first started out, I was doing a lot of painting from still lives or painting out my window. I painted a lot of scenes of Ann Arbor. That was fun because I felt like I was in the middle of it. It felt like the things that I had loved watching my parents do, but they didn't exactly do that, but it was what they did. I kept doing that and out of that came larger pieces and more complex compositions. Pretty soon I became more interested in things that were a little more abstract. I wanted to just stretch out a little bit from the realism or the semi realism. After that, I just started doing a lot of different things, a lot more abstractions, and a mixture of abstraction and realism.
  • [00:14:17] AMY CANTU: At some point, I know that social justice issues have been an important aspect of your life. Would you tie that back to your early days in Ann Arbor in the history here specifically? Or where did that come from in your life?
  • [00:14:31] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I think that that also came from my family. Nobody was as political as we are now. Now we're crazy political, but we lived in the northern suburbs and we were interested in social justice. When the civil rights process got started, we would go on those marches. That was right when I was in high school. All of the things that were taking place in the early '60s when I was still in high school, I was taking part in that and maybe not making art projects out of it, but I was thinking about it and I knew people that were working on it in a lot of different ways. Then as I got to college, I was still interested in that. In Bennington I felt very removed from that because we were out in a little tiny town. I felt like, well, where did it go and then when I moved to Ann Arbor, it was all around and I'll never forget walking through the diag and there's the smoke blowing around and then there's the people marching, and then you go into the classroom and people are agitating in the classroom. It was like, wow, what is going on here? But I appreciated all that and felt that it was time to practice changing things and doing it as much as we could. But I think I didn't actually do my first piece that was really coherently about social justice until the later '70s or the early '80s. By that time we'd moved to New York City and the homeless crisis had really come to the city. There would be, somebody asking for money at the corner. There would be somebody sitting in front of the grocery store. There would be somebody riding in the bus with you. There would be somebody living in the subway stop on their mattress. It was everywhere. That really made a big impression on me. By that time we had a little child, a four year old Jeanne. I was taking my daughter around getting the groceries and doing all the shopping and this, that and the other. I was thinking, now what is she going to think if we're just walking through this like there's nothing wrong with this? I just felt like I needed to do something. I did a series of reliefs in Terracotta using the scenes of people on the street. They were contemporary scenes, but they were using the Stations of the Cross that are the 12 or 14 situations before Jesus is killed. I did that because I wanted to unify otherwise, here you had this huge group of people. They're all different. Nothing pulls them together. That was one of the problems. Nobody could say who they are. It's the same thing today. You have to do it one by one. I thought if I could use this story that everybody knows the story, then you could make them a whole. That's what I was doing and I had a friend who was Catholic, so he said, well, we should have a book made of this, because the Catholics, we want to go around and see the stations of the cross in the church before Easter and we take a book and I said, well, who would write the book? He says, well, how about Dan Berrigan? Dan Berrigan, he and his brother were both Jesuits, and they were some of the first people to burn draft cards, and not just their own draft cards, because I don't think they had any. They were burning everybody's draft cards. I thought, my goodness, if these two guys, these priests are burning draft cards, then something is really going on. Something that shouldn't be going on. Sure enough, this was at least a decade later and they were still doing it, still working on it. We got Dan to write a book about the Stations of the Cross and he wrote meditation, so they're like poetry because he also wrote poetry. That was really my first overtly political piece of work. Then after that, it started coming up, all the time.
  • [00:20:05] ELIZABETH SMITH: I was curious about some of the community projects you've been engaged in. Specifically, ones that draw people together to participate and what that process was like and what the feedback was like and just a little bit more about it.
  • [00:20:18] MARGARET PARKER: Did you have one in mind that you liked, that you were interested in? Or should I just.
  • [00:20:22] ELIZABETH SMITH: Just whatever one you think is the most interesting, I guess?
  • [00:20:25] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I met Mark in Ann Arbor. We lived together in Ann Arbor when he was running Hertler Brothers, and then we decided to move to New York. We both wanted to be in New York for a while. We lived in New York. That was exciting. Then the baby came along and we looked at each other and we said.
  • [00:20:52] MARGARET PARKER: Aren't we supposed, don't we need a job for this? Yes, we do. I was not good at making money. He was very good at making money, so he said, well, okay Margaret. Let's do something together and will you work with me? I said, yes, I will. What other choice did we have? To make a long story short, we ended up running an inn in Maine. We did that for 13 years and we would go for a while. We went back and forth to New York in the wintertime. That got a little bit too complicated with a little kid. Finally we moved up to Maine completely and ran this inn which was a big success. Maine is also a state that has had public art for a long time, a percent for art for a long time. Even though it's very remote. Really, every school has mosaics around their drinking fountains, and they might have goofy characters in their hallways or things on the walls that are. The artists have a way to turn their art into public art. It doesn't have to be just in a gallery, on a wall where only the people that buy it, get the benefit of the art. I thought that was such a great idea, so I started looking into it and did send in my slides and all that. That's about the time when we decided we'd better move back to Ann Arbor because Mark's parents were still in Ann Arbor and they needed more help. Anyway, disruption, but we end up back in Ann Arbor and by this time I knew that I wanted to paint more than I wanted to run an inn. I said, Mark, I'm not going to be working with you so much anymore. I'm going to be painting more and I need a place to paint. There's this room upstairs above the store. I think that's my studio right up there. He said, oh, really? I said, yeah, that's it. I made this space over into my studio, and it was a great place to have a studio because anybody that was downtown would come up and visit. I also worked on the graphics for the store. I had a bit of a job that I was helping the family business go along. Anyway, things worked very well because Mark is a tremendous businessman and he's kept at that and the store has become a huge success. He keeps having more ideas and they keep blossoming out. That's been a lot of fun to watch and interesting for me to watch because my parents were not into, my mother was a teacher, my father was a carpenter. What they did, they did just for the love of doing it really, they weren't really connected to the money making end of art. I got more involved when we came back to Ann Arbor, that's when I had more time. That's when I became more adept at finding ways to show my work. I got involved with a group called the Women's Caucus for Art, so that's a National organization for Women Artists. By that time, I'd also realized that women had a lot harder time getting their work in galleries and showing their work. I said I'll just work with the women, that'll be easier. The Women's Caucus for Art is a national organization and it has groups around the country. We started a group in Michigan and that's also when I began working with a woman who helped artists figure out their finances or how to make money. I spoke with her over the years and she was one of the people that said, now Margaret, if you did something with the community that would be a way for groups to be involved with you and for you to spread out what you do. I did that for a number of years along with showing, and so I did workshops. That was interesting and I met a lot of people that way.
  • [00:26:12] AMY CANTU: You must have brought back then from Maine some ideas for public art. Can you talk a little bit about that?
  • [00:26:20] MARGARET PARKER: Yes, so when we left Maine, I had just started to get involved with the statewide public art scene in Maine. One of the things they said is if you want your work to become public art, you should work on the other side of the equation and become involved in selecting public art and showing public art. When I got back to Ann Arbor, I looked for groups that were doing that. Sure enough, there were groups doing that in Ann Arbor. They were just starting to do it, but the weird thing was the state didn't have public art commission. They didn't have really public art set up. They didn't have a percent for art, so I kept saying, well, I wonder why they are not doing this. They're a big state, they have money, not like Maine. Maine is like been just out of the depression by an inch for the last 30 years. I met some friends and we said, let's do it, let's get involved and let's see what we can do. We started with, I think it was a parking structure that was going to be rebuilt. We said, let's put public art in that parking structure. We went to all these meetings and meetings, and eventually long time. After that we found artists and we had several different people putting work in the parking structure. That's right on Washington and fourth, so that was our crashing into view thing. Then after that, we got the city to establish public art commission. Everybody was nodding at us, but nobody knew what the heck we wanted to do or how it was supposed to be done. A couple of us went out to California and went to some workshops on public art because they've been doing public art for a long time out in California. Mainly because of the weather. Like you can have public art year round and it's not threatened by snowstorms. I was one of those people, and little by little, we formulated what to do and how to set up a jury and how to put a call for people describe what we wanted. It took so long, but it finally started to work and eventually I realized, well I didn't really think I was going to be the public art person in Ann Arbor. What I wanted to do was make the public art for Ann Arbor. It was hard to get past that. Finally I said, and I had been the chair of the Public Art Commission. Oh, you know, five years or something. I said, I'm stepping down, somebody else has to be the chair, stop crying, I'm not going to leave, someone else can do this. Finally we found somebody else to do it and by this time we had already managed to set up a percent for art system. It was voted in. Everybody on the city council voted yes for it, unbelievably. Nobody believed that would ever happen. Then the next year was 2007, when everything crashed and we still hadn't quite figured out how this all worked, but the 1% for art came out of the general fund of the city. I think most people just don't know how large that fund is. It's large and 1% is still quite large and the fact that all this money was coming into art that made everybody else's hair go up like, oh.
  • [00:31:08] MARGARET PARKER: We had 1% for art for about six years and then it unraveled. All of this was my big learning curve in what it meant to be involved in the city planning, which I thought was really amazing and very interesting. People were working so hard to do the right thing for the city anyway. I felt just very lucky to have been part of it, even though we ran into trouble. But now artists come to the city from different directions. We have all these murals that have been put together and I think they look great. Other groups are doing public art on the bridges and on the buildings. I think we've had an effect. Because when I first started doing art publicly, people would say, Margaret, you're so artsy fartsy. I would say really? That was how people talked about it and they still talk about it like that. People are afraid of art and afraid of making a decision when it comes to art and afraid to express their yearning for art. You just have to keep going anyway.
  • [00:32:53] ELIZABETH SMITH: Did you get to design any public art for Ann Arbor? You said you wanted to design it.
  • [00:32:58] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I designed dragon out of clear colored plexiglass that was out on the pool that's on Plymouth Road.
  • [00:33:15] ELIZABETH SMITH: Fuller Pool.
  • [00:33:15] MARGARET PARKER: Fuller Pool? Yes. There was this dragon and I designed it in connection with one of the people that was working on changing the city infrastructure into environmentally sound projects. He had designed a fountain that came out from the building and sprayed into the pool. He said, Margaret, do something that makes this fountain come out and nobody knows what it is, it's just a fountain thing dripping out on top of us here. I designed this dragon. That was another thing that was challenged from the very beginning, but it looked great for the time that it was up. Everybody said they would repair it or take care of it and that didn't happen. You could just run into a lot of trouble with public art because all the steps have to be in place. The design, the building, the institution, where it's art has to be hind it full bore, and then the maintenance, and the repair. Because everything breaks sooner or later. We didn't have all of that lined up. I think that was part of what came apart.
  • [00:35:01] AMY CANTU: When you say—you had mentioned a few minutes ago that there's fear of art, people don't know what to expect do you think that that's more aesthetic, not understanding, or do you think it is more about the logistics? We don't know how we're going to put this together or how we're going to maintain it over time, that sort of thing. Where does that come from in your view, that fear?
  • [00:35:26] MARGARET PARKER: Well, a lot of people maybe they've never seen art in their own life, maybe they just haven't been near art. Maybe they don't know anybody that enjoys it because art can be something that is, if you don't enjoy it, you can think that it should be made fun of or something like that. Public art is really put in a grave situation because everybody is there ready to throw old bananas at it or whatever. It looks like it should be free, but it's really very restricted what you can make for public art. Especially in a climate that's bad in the winter and hot in the summer, you have to really be ready for action.
  • [00:36:31] AMY CANTU: Do you feel that there are cities in Michigan that do a good job like Grand Rapids or who is a good model for us?
  • [00:36:39] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I spent a lot of time going to the City Council. With each time, I would have a different way of saying how important public art was. One of my big ideas was to equate all of the universities that had big 10 football teams and see if they had public art and most of them had public art. Then I would give the number that they were spending on this public art. I would say, this is something Michigan could do. It's like it should do. I tried to make it funny and fun at the same time. I think that had a big effect on people. It made them realize that this didn't come out of the blue. It's something that people do and they like it. But Michigan was going through some hard times then and I think perhaps I wasn't as tuned in to how difficult it was for municipalities in the whole state. Actually, I had worked with the State and the State Art Commission. There was an art commission, but it wasn't public art commission, it was all the arts. They never actually called me up and said, hey, what are you doing this? How can we help? We could do X, Y, and Z. I would say yes, we are. But they never did that. I think the state was also didn't know how to invest in that, they didn't know what to do about it. Michigan has a bit of an ornery streak. I decided that's what they have. You have to find your own ways of doing it. But I went back to doing my own work. I actually really like working on my own projects. I worked more with the Women's Caucus group so that was important to me. I think artists need to have a lot of different ways to support their work. The more, the better. Nobody really comes to art full born, few artists sell their first piece unless you're selling it for just the right price. In fact, it's interesting to me when you look at famous artists, like all the famous male artists have done, either started out in painting large advertisements on billboards or they started printing posters, or they started taking photographs of celebrities. They found a way to start working in other industries that use art. Because people use art all the time. If you really think about it, art is all over the place. Americans love art. They love rinky dink art and they love high end art and they love all art. Now it's just spilling out all over the place. Artists have to get ready to swim in that swim with it.
  • [00:40:26] ELIZABETH SMITH: I think the COVID pandemic brought that to a front. We all needed art during that time more than ever. I was curious, you did the dictionary for a pandemic project and I was just wondering how did COVID impact your work as an artist and has it changed anything for you since?
  • [00:40:45] MARGARET PARKER: Now we're getting down to it. I'd been writing right along, but mostly I was writing for myself. I didn't want to do two things at once that were going to compete. I felt like the art was where I would be more public. But then my mother passed away in 2013 and it turns out she had 30 notebooks that she'd been writing in. We could barely read her writing because she had macular degeneration. I realized, Margaret, if you want people to read your writing, you better at least get it written down so other people can read it and make it bring it out. I started reading some of my poetry in public and it turns out I loved reading poetry. It was my own poetry. I started going to the different places where people were reading poetry. Also there were people that were doing political stuff with poetry. Pretty soon it was 2016 and by that time, everybody had just exploded.
  • [00:42:17] MARGARET PARKER: It hardly mattered what you said as long as you said it really loud. I got involved with several different groups that were performing as groups and it was just great. It was another community event to be part of and that really gave me a lot of courage and confidence. I started writing longer pieces and the first long piece that I did was called Practice For the Afterlife. Well, it was done with a group of other women that were doing a project called Dear Woman House What Now? This was out in Manchester. We thought we'd pick a nice quiet place that needed some roughing up. One of the people in the group had a house that they had lived in earlier. They thought, oh, well, all we have to do is clean this up a little bit and it can be our house. It turned out her idea of cleaning up was very down to brass tax. We spent quite a bit of time cleaning that house up. Then we had quite a wonderful group of women artists. This was an homage to the original Woman House that was done in the '70s, 1972 with Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro out in California. There's fantastic videos of what they did. They had been taking a class, but they decided to do something in a house where they could be together and do what they wanted to do, to figure out what women's art should be, what it should look like, and what it shouldn't. When they finally opened the doors, it was called Woman House and it was incredibly popular. I heard about it when I was just getting out of college, and I said, oh God, I want to be part of that. But I was in Michigan and that wasn't happening yet. Anyway, but it really had a big effect on me. It was the first big feminist effort that people made. People re-did that over and over till right now. I've done one of the Dear Woman House groups and some people in Detroit have done it. Anyway, the same group has done several different versions of this. The next thing we did was called Seeing White. One of the people found a podcast about Seeing White and it was really about the racial situation and how segregation was implanted in everything that we did and escaping it was a lot harder than anybody thought it was going to be. This was a mixed group of Black and white artists. We met every week and went through this podcast. Then everybody was doing work on their own. That was the second group piece that I did. Then the pandemic came along, and there I was. Mid '70s, my husband and I just went home and we said, well goodbye, we'll see you later. We just wandered up and down the road and it was not good. I was just shocked at what was going on and the language that stories about families that used to be good things to hear were now turned on their head. The family could infect the whole rest of the family. Everything that was good could be turned into something bad. Our daughter who had been living in Brooklyn for years after college. We said, Jeanne come home. This is when you come home, come home right now, or we'll come and get you. You better come home. Finally, she did come home. Everything changed for us. To try to figure all this out, I started writing, but I didn't know what to write about. It was a total turning over of language usage and the only thing I could do was start writing down the awful words that I was finding so terrifying. I started collecting them and then I started arranging them by an alphabetical order. Pretty soon I said, one page for each letter. Pretty soon I had the alphabet going. People were interested in that. I started sending it out to people and seeing what happened. Finally, I finished it in the first several months of the pandemic. This was March, April, May, something like that. Then by November, there was another huge surge and nobody was ready for it. People wanted to forget it so bad and I just had this terrible feeling that it was all starting all over again. I called up my friends and said, listen, I have this piece of poetry that we could read. Each person could take a separate letter and read the poem that goes with it. We've got 18 or 20 people together and everybody took a different poem and we did it in Zoom, which we just learned how to use. The great thing was that in the Zoom, each face was a close up. Each person got their whole, they were reading the story of what was going on in all of its chopped upness and horrification, which you would never get unless you saw it on television. Well, but we weren't on television, we were on Zoom. It was what I thought was just incredible success and everybody watched it right to the end. The only problem was nobody hit record. But I sent the whole project into a group called the Emergency Index. That's a place that publishes performance, all of the performance art from one year into a volume, and they accepted this proposal. What you do is write up a synopsis or a summary of what your performance was. I sent a picture of the Zoom, people, us, and then the description of what we did and how I felt like we really helped each other. The story really consolidated us and made us feel like, oh, we weren't crazy, we were going through this. It was just really an incredible period. Actually the book just came out and we got it just yesterday.
  • [00:51:06] MARGARET PARKER: That's pretty amazing, and the first one I sent in was the piece that I did for the Woman House, which was called Practice for the After Life. That was the first one that they published.
  • [00:51:19] ELIZABETH SMITH: Do you have any artworks that stand out in your mind as representative of yourself or your career as an artist?
  • [00:51:26] MARGARET PARKER: Well, there's a lot of them, a lot of different ones, and actually they each connect to a period of time. I'm not going to give you any. You'll have to send people to my website and tell them to go check it out and choose their own and send me a message. We had a show here in the library.
  • [00:51:55] ELIZABETH SMITH: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that, you said you exhibited with your mother's work.
  • [00:51:59] MARGARET PARKER: Yes. Well, my mother was a painter and when she retired from teaching high school art, which she taught at a very stern level, she and my dad retired up to Wisconsin and they built a new house, and they were out on a farm on what used to be a farm, but they didn't farm it. My mother had a studio for the first time. She did a lot of these paintings, which are just really pretty remarkable, but she also started making quilts. Her quilts, well, they were bed sized. At first, she made them with lots of little blocks of fabric in different colors. Then she started making trees. When she started making trees, she really came into her own. It's amazing how many times you can use a tree in a quilt, but what happened was she started using much larger concepts than just the landscape that was around her or the cityscape or whatever it was. She did a whole series. One was of Moses with the mother who sent the baby down in the basket and then the Pharaoh's wife that picked the baby up. Then she did one of Joseph, ladder. Jacob is asleep on the ground and these fairy like angels come down the ladder. They look like they're going to tickle him. She had a way of mixing humor in with what she was doing without making it seem silly. Just had her whole aura, which was that things were wonderful and beautiful and sometimes funny and sometimes serious. She did a string of those about the Old Testament, then she did them about places that she loved, places in Wisconsin and then she went on a lot of trips, so there was one of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Blue Mosque with the minarets and all the people. Just a fantastic subject for quilt. Then there was the town common in Wisconsin, the closest town to where they were living and it had the city hall that was very proper. Then right next door to it was the jail, which is how the old jails right in there, places like that, lots of nature scenes. She liked to draw many trees together. Historical stories or mythical stories and women's stories so she had one that she made of Anita Hill in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Anita Hill is sitting there so calmly in her blue dress and with her legs crossed and up above are the senators, going like this or whatever they were doing. Then along the sides were different women in all different costumes. Down below were a string of women's feet in their shoes, walking. Anyway, she just had a way of investing her whole self into these great large compositions.
  • [00:56:31] ELIZABETH SMITH: You showed your work here at the library alongside hers.
  • [00:56:35] MARGARET PARKER: We showed six of her quilts, and I think six water colors downstairs in the glass, vitrines. Then I showed my work up on the third floor. I had textile pieces, I had painted pieces, and I showed stuff going way back to when I was just starting out. It was great for me because I got to really see what I had done, look back over it. Of course, it wasn't everything at all, but it made me realize that I had really done some interesting things.
  • [00:57:23] ELIZABETH SMITH: What are you most proud of?
  • [00:57:25] MARGARET PARKER: Well, I'm really proud of doing public art in Ann Arbor, even if we had stumbles and things like that. Because I think we did change things. I think people think speak differently about art now and they want to be part of it and that's great. I'm really proud of that. I'm proud of my own work because it's not easy to have a whole lifetime of making art. It's a lot easier to become a stenographer. If you feel like you have a choice between art and stenography, take stenography and then do art on the side, or when your parents say, well, okay, art is fine, but you should actually get a teaching degree. Well, you could listen to them say that. You could make it easier on yourself. But in fact, I've had a studio for a long time. I've made a whole lifetime of work that I'm proud of and it would only have happened if I'd had space to do it. If I'd had people that believed that I could do it and that I also didn't stop doing it when they stopped saying anything to me. You really have to want to do it really bad.
  • [00:59:17] ELIZABETH SMITH: AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.