Hero Worship (2010)

Angela Ellsworth

See: a video interview with Angela Ellsworth.

I was reading a piece about my Mormon heritage at a writing workshop when the instructor, Tania Katan, got incredibly animated and said, "Oh, my God, you've got to meet my partner Angela." It was one of those quick "No way!" moments when I mentioned that I was a descendant of William Jordan Flake, and then she said Angela is a descendant of the Snow family.

A little Arizona history here — the northern Arizona town of Snowflake was named after William Jordan Flake, pioneer and colonizer and visiting Mormon apostle Erastus Snow. The two combined their names to get "Snowflake."

Could it be? It was an energizing moment, like shouting, "Wonder Twin powers activate!" Then, Tania pulled a sheet away to reveal one of Ellsworths's Seer Bonnets. The Seer Bonnets are bonnets made from traditional pioneer patterns that have been completely covered in long pearl corsage pins. We're talking thousands — as in, 14,000-plus — of corsage pins, with which she painstakingly covered the entire surface of the fabric. The pearl ends on the outside, all the sharp tips pointing inward into the interiors of the bonnets. Seeing it was — to use a Mormon phrase — a revelation. It took my breath away.

Angela Ellsworth is an interdisciplinary artist whose art practice includes performance, drawing, and object making. Her work has been known to draw heavily on her Mormon roots, whether it be pushing a handcart on a walk from Phoenix to Mesa or a performance piece featuring imagined sister wives.

To me, having grown up in a small town, art — specifically, female art — very often meant "craft." I grew up in a family whose female members were masterful at crochet, quilting, baking, making Christmas ornaments, etc. What was immediately recognizable in Angela's work was a nod to these traditions while simultaneously taking them to extremes.

As it turns out, Angela is a descendant not of Erastus Snow of Snowflake, but from 5th Prophet Lorenzo Snow. So we're not wonder twins. But, still, her creativity and, more specifically, her willingness to peel the lid back and take a look at the matrilineal lines running within and throughout a patriarchal faith make her a hero(ine) to me. — Sativa Peterson

New Times contributor Sativa Peterson, who talks about her own Mormon roots, among other things, on her blog, www.sativapeterson.com, interviewed Angela Ellsworth on August 18 at Ellsworth's Phoenix studio.

I live in Phoenix because I love the horizon line. So I'm here for the horizon line and the landscape and sky . . . so much of my work is really about being here so right now it feels completely interconnected, my research, my art practice, my teaching.

When I was a kid I wanted to dress every day in a different theme. So, I did, actually. Like, one day, I'd go to school as a sailor or like a Swiss alpine hiker wearing lederhosen and with a rope around my shoulder, and then maybe a fortuneteller another day.

Phoenix could use more unexpected pioneers. Sort of pioneers of the everyday — or people who are navigating and maybe changing social space on an everyday level. Not people in power necessarily, but people one wouldn't expect to be a pioneer I think.

Phoenix could use fewer laws that restrict civil rights.

I have the superpower of smell. I can smell . . . things. Special particular things. Like when I walk into someone's home and there's a dirty dishrag somewhere I can sniff out where that is, and sometimes it's not even in the kitchen. I'm just saying . . . I'm not just going to the kitchen, I can find that dishrag.

The superpower I would want is to have my hearing do the same thing so that I could hear through multiple walls and I could listen to the ground and hear to the center of the Earth, and that I could hear through multiple different kinds of materials, you know like listen through a mountain. I'd really like that, but not in a noisy way. I'm really sensitive to sound, that's why I think I'm almost onto having this super power — so just fine-tuning. There's some tuning going on that pretty soon I'm going to be able to hear a cloud.

My hero is my great great aunt, Eliza R. Snow . . . [She was] one of the first plural wives of Joseph Smith, which gives her a certain amount of clout, but she never had children (because apparently she was pushed down the steps by the first wife, Emma Smith, when she was pregnant and miscarried and then she never had kids again). And she was called the poetess of the Mormon faith. And so she's a heroine for me because she found a way to, through creativity, kind of tap in to who she [was] within that larger community and maybe transcending it.


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