Boston Globe: Impressions of ironing boards, honoring labor

CAMBRIDGE — When he was young, Willie Cole repaired steam irons for his grandmother and great-grandmother, who were housekeepers. He honors them, and the backbreaking labor of legions of other women, in “Beauties,” his luminous show at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Cole cracks open the symbolic and metaphoric power of everyday objects. Here, he chooses the ironing board, an image he has used before; in “Stowage,” a 1997 woodblock print nearly 8 feet long, the shape of an ironing board stood in for a schematic of a slave ship.

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Willie Cole’s “Five Beauties Rising” (2012), intaglio and relief on paper, are prints of ironing boards named (from left) Savannah, Dot, Fannie Mae, Queen, and Anna Mae . (WILLIE COLE)

Willie Cole’s “Five Beauties Rising” (2012), intaglio and relief on paper, are prints of ironing boards named (from left) Savannah, Dot, Fannie Mae, Queen, and Anna Mae . (WILLIE COLE)