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Barbara Wertheim

Our Mother

Plastic Bottle Tree by Barbara Wertheim, pictured at the Crochet Reef exhibition at The Hayward (2008). Photo by Vincent Dachy.

"It's always the mother's fault."

In this case it actually is. It was our mother - Barbara Wertheim - who taught us how to do handicrafts when we were small children. From our earliest days Christine and I sewed and embroidered and knitted; skills we learned from our mother, who in turn had learned them from her mother. By necessity, all of us - three generations of women, and no doubt many generations before that - made our own clothes and curtains and other domestic acoutrements. About the only craft we didn't learn from Barbara was crocheting, which we taught ourselves to do in high-school. After we started the Reef project we, in turn, taught her how to crochet.

IFF Coral Garden at Broadway Windows exhibition (NYC 2008), featuring green and purple anemones by Barbara Wertheim.

Along with handicrafts, our mother also encouraged us as children to make things for ourselves. Just about everything we had at home was home-made. Instead of boxed games we had butcher paper and crayons; in place of shop-bought toys we had colored paper and scissors. Barbara insisted that growing minds needed to be constructive and she refused to buy us wrapping paper to enfold our gifts when we went to children's parties - instead we were exhorted to "make our own." Once, when we children were fighting over the nightly allowance of an hour's television (were we going to watch a fourth repeat episode of Gillian's Island or a sixth repeat of The Brady Bunch), she banned television for a week. In response, we kids fashioned a TV-set of our own from a cardboard box and made paper-reels with hand-drawn stories that we presented to one another. We kicked and screamed sometimes, and felt secret envy for the salubrious products that our peers seemed to access so effortlessly, but in the end we are eternally grateful.

Out of these seeds the Reef was born...