Collection Highlight

Anna Torma’s Carpet of Many Hands

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Densely embroidered textiles and fabrics are layered over top of one another. A white square with a pink tulip is stitched prominently in the centre. To its left, over a patchwork of red, green, and yellow floral motifs are the heads of a man and woman depicted in black and white comic-style, both peering to the right. Between the two is the word “AAHHHHHHH” and a cartoon figure of Wile E. Coyote playing electric guitar. To the right are embroidered soldiers. Around them is a printed toile folk scene of wine grape harvesting in cream and maroon. Embroidered Hungarian script on white fabric and a band of white lace, extend to the right, partially covered by sheer purple fabric with silver dragonflies.

Explore Anna Torma’s Carpet of Many Hands

In 2020, the Owens purchased Anna Torma’s monumental work, Carpet of Many Hands (2012-2018). Described by the artist as an “encyclopedia of women’s work,” this vast, two-panel tapestry is a delicate patchwork of printed fabrics, hand embroidery, domestic textiles, and lace. Among these elements are pieces drawn from Torma’s own archive of work, as well as embroidery by her mother. Within the imagery are motifs from her children’s drawings and references to artworks by her husband, artist Istvan Zsako.

Richly layered in material and meaning, Carpet of Many Hands is a complex collage of family ties, language, history, gender, identity, humor, and kitsch. The work invites us to look closely and become absorbed in its details.

Interview with Anna Torma

Explore a high-resolution panorama of Carpet of Many Hands

Anna Torma, Carpet of Many Hands, 2012-2018, textile collage, 545 x 112 cm. Purchased in 2020 with the assistance of the Ruth Lockhart Eisenhaur Fund and the Blanche Beatrice Peppard Memorial Endowment Fund, Mount Allison University

Carpet of Many Hands described by many voices

The scale and scope of this work presents a unique challenge to visual description. At the Owens, we write short alt-text descriptions for all images on our website and social media channels. These descriptions, accessed by screen readers, provide blind and partially sighted visitors with short descriptions of images and artworks written in concise, vivid language. This work is part of our ongoing commitment to reducing barriers to access in both our virtual and physical spaces.

For artworks on view in special exhibitions, we often write longer, more expansive visual descriptions. In this case, Carpet of Many Hands is so large and detailed that we have used it as an opportunity to take a creative approach. Working with students in MUSE 3301 Museums, Education and Outreach, course instructor Lucy MacDonald, Curator of Education and Community Outreach, explored the potential of describing this work in sections, effectively describing Carpet of Many Hands through many voices.

This collaborative description was created through a process of close looking, discussion, drafting, peer review, editing, and recording. This project expands accessibility at the Owens, providing a new point of entry into the work for any visitor, while considering the ways the Gallery serves as “teaching museum” and laboratory for experiential research in museum practice.

This collaborative visual description was written in the winter of 2023 by Darlene Baker, Matthew Cann, Suhjung Chun, Noelle Cook, Paige Crosby, Grace Forsythe, Sophie Giese, Anna Hamilton, Rachel Holt, Tobi Huston, Annabelle Kean, Devine Levine-Kpai, Cassidy Long, Kellie Mattatall, Eva Pestrin, and Rebecca Whiteway.