DES MOINES — Eastern Iowa artists marked the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s ratification of the 19th Amendment by contributing to a national collaborative art project called Her Flag 2020.
The project aims to create an 18-by-26-foot flag that celebrates the amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. Artists in the 36 states to ratify the amendment in 1919 and 1920 were chosen to create a stripe for the flag. They are being sewn together by project creator and Oklahoma-based artist Marilyn Artus as she travels through the 36 states on the anniversary of when they ratified the amendment. Iowa ratified the amendment on Aug. 24, 1919.
During a ceremony Aug. 24 in Des Moines, Artus sewed the Iowa stripe onto the flag while Akwi Nji, an artist from Cedar Rapids, delivered two spoken word pieces. Iowa’s stripe was created by Annie Swarm Guldberg, an artist from Mount Pleasant.
Artus brought out her sewing machine to add Iowa’s stripe to the flag in front of an audience of about a dozen people at the Des Moines Social Club.
Guldberg painted her stripe on canvas with oil paints, scanning the finished product in to be printed on fabric. The stripe depicts hands grasping sashes, which resemble the sashes worn by suffragettes. It reads “Votes for Women.”
Under the sash is the date Iowa voted “yes,” along with the names of suffragettes such as Arabella Babb Mansfield, the first female lawyer in the U.S. and a professor at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant.
On the second sash is a quote from Carrie Chapman Catt — a leader in the suffragette movement and a native Iowan — that reads: “Progress is calling on you to make no pause. Act!”
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Guldberg said she is humbled to be included with the other artists who created stripes. When she reads about the adversity of the suffragette movement, she wonders what people will look back on 100 years from now and think about the change that was made.
“If there’s something you’re passionate about and you see a way to start to make a change, don’t be afraid to act,” Guldberg said.
Performing as Artus sewed the Iowa stripe onto “Her Flag” was a unique opportunity for Nji to use her art to honor the centennial of the 19th Amendment, she said.
Nji is the founder of The Hook, a nonprofit in Cedar Rapids that aims to produce live literature events, and communications director for the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
When researching the suffragette movement to write the spoken word pieces, Nji said she was fascinated to discover that women have outnumbered men at the polls for every presidential election since 1964. The first year women had the right to vote, 8 million women cast their ballots, she said.
Nji’s first piece was a nod to milestones achieved in women’s rights and a glance at how female role models — from Wonder Woman to politicians — are perceived.
“I wanted the piece to acknowledge the possibility of a female being in the White House as president,” Nji said. “Who knows? It’s a possibility, like a real possibility.”
Nji’s second piece addressed the power women have to be both compassionate and “really fiery” about their passions, she said.
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“I think in this era, perhaps more than others before us, we as women have the opportunity to think about the wide breadth of what it means to be a powerful woman, and that can include soft curves and jagged edges,” Nji said.
When Nji was first asked to be a part of “Her Flag,” she said she was blown away by the ambition of Artus to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Nji said that women and men owe it to themselves to pause and honor how substantial the 19th Amendment was to U.S. history.
“While it’s an opportunity to celebrate women’s right to vote, it’s also an opportunity to honor the men who voted to pass the 19th Amendment,” Nji said. “This project is really inclusive in so many ways when it comes to geography, gender and generations.”
Artus began her 14-month journey in Wisconsin on June 10 and will conclude the project in Nashville, Tennessee, on Aug. 18, 2020, where she will complete and display “Her Flag” on the 100th anniversary of Tennessee ratifying the 19th Amendment. While she isn’t sure where the flag will be displayed once completed, she said she would love to see it hanging in Washington, D.C. during the next presidential election.
“Her Flag is a really positive project,” Artus said. “Democrats, Republicans, men, women and everyone had to be in the mix to get the amendment passed. No (political) party owns this anniversary. I love that it’s inclusive and a reminder of the good things we have accomplished together.”
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