Pigeons at the Daley Center, Chicago IIlinois, 2007

‘“Do not smoke or eat seeds in here”, a notice in one of the offices, always moved me to an almost tearful smile. The seed habit, with its consequent litter, for beguiling the empty stomach, was to be reckoned with and legislated for as much as smoking. There was a symbolic pathos about the old man with his huge baskets of seeds — pumpkin and other varieties — always standing in the entryway at headquarters.′

Starr wrote the above description of strikers who must eat seeds to ease their hunger and who, despite this hardship, choose to keep the strike office tidy by forbidding the snack, in her article “Reflections on the Recent Chicago Strike of Clothing Workers.’ The 1915 strike was, she continues, in many ways, similar to past strikes. ‘There was the same array of money power, press power, police power, against the relative powerlessness of the dispossessed and the unenfranchised. Sixty percent of the strikers were women, and even a larger percent of the men were not voters.’

Sidewalk in Chicago Illinois, 2007

Starr established the Hull House bindery after training at Doves Bindery in England in 1897-98 and for three months in 1899 with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, the very man who coined the term ‘Arts and Crafts.’ We also owe to him the lesser known social ideal of the ‘Book Beautiful’, in which the individual craftsperson recognizes that s/he is only one in a community of people needed in the production of the common good, be it a book, a building, or life itself.

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0062288, Chicago Daily News negatives collection,

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.

Sarah Alford

Taking the Book Apart

‘She [Ellen Gates Starr] always looked herself. Colors good, style of any period that happened to turn up. She was much given to exhuming bits of family embroidery and using them as fichues. In later years she dressed entirely in purples and lavenders all of which blended delightfully into one another. Hats had been a problem which she solved in later years by a “species of habit” as she said — a small hat with a brim, the crown covered with a purple veil which streamed out behind with her rapid advance. One of the last times I saw her active (within a month she was paralysed from the waist down) was when meeting a family in sorrow from a death, she all but flew down the La Salle Street station platform, the purple wings behind her, her little feet skimming the ground.’[2]

After reading this description of her, I began to associate Starr with pigeons. I also could not help but think of the way pigeons are mostly considered as expendable nuisances in our urban environment. Starr was working to bring to light how the most neglected and disenfranchised among us, are us.


Ellen Gates Starr, bookbinding pattern, photocopy from “Ellen Gates Starr Papers 1885-1940,”

University of Illinois in Chicago.

This project is about Ellen Gates Starr (1859-1940), bookbinder, labour organiser, art history teacher and co-founder of the Chicago Public School Art Society in 1894 and the Chicago chapter of the Arts and Crafts Society in 1897. She, like many social activists and artists working towards cultural and social reform in Chicago during the late 1890s, embraced the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement. Unlike the great majority of Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain or the United States, Starr negotiated the contradictions and the powerful ideals of the movement from a place of constant financial insecurity, by living with and helping to organise the working class, by joining picket lines and by direct political action including running for Alderman as a socialist. Each activity was aided and abetted by reading, teaching, and practicing a demanding, time-consuming craft for nearly twenty years. Starr believed that art arose out of the experience of everyday life and that artists do not appear spontaneously. She believed that the conditions of art and labour were directly connected to larger economic and political decisions. She struggled to reconcile the deeply sustaining pleasure of craftsmanship with the need to fight for the conditions that would make the privilege of making art, which she defines as ‘doing the work one likes to do and expressing one’s self through it’ as a basic condition of labour. [1] She enjoined her vision for an ideal made visible through the imprint of labour worth doing, with the hope that this vision would be a collective one, able to be shared and read by everyone.

Starr was also a labour activist; during the Chicago Garment Workers’ Strike of 1910 she was in charge of the picket lines with over 40,000 strikers who spoke nine languages.

Starr had been active in Chicago’s labor movement from the time the clothing cutters and tailors went on strike in 1896. Most of Hull House's neighbors, of course, were workers and its doors were open to those who wished to organize. Hull House was also a stronghold for Chicago's chapter of the National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) formed to aid female workers who were unsupported by existing trade unions. Starr became one of the charter members in 1904.  

The WTUL was integral to the success of the strike of the United Garment Workers in 1910-11. It began when Annie Shapiro walked off her job at Hart, Shaffner and Marx when they lowered their workers’ wages, thus sparking a protest that rose like a wave across the garment industry in Chicago. This strike also hearkens back to the beginnings of Chicago's labor movement when in 1867, 1877, and 1886 thousands of unorganized men, women and children from across all ethnic lines took to the streets. More often than not these strikes were resolved violently by the state. Thus when forty thousand immigrants and women took to the streets in 1910 the WTUL saw that it might help avert the violent class struggle that marked Chicago's labour history.

The WTUL publicized and represented the strikers' side of the story. The vast majority of strikers were simply not able to communicate with the English speaking and reading public. They also walked the picket lines, protecting the strikers from the violence inflicted on them by hired detectives and police. They also attended court proceedings, provided bail and helped the strikers navigate the legal system. They helped in the formation of unions, in fundraising, and not the least of their efforts went into the unbelievable effort needed to provide forty-five thousand strikers with food, coal and clothing over the winter. The social structures created to feed, clothe and house the strikers were arranged outside of, yet utilized, distribution methods already in place. The strikers and their allies in Chicago formed democratic units not just as a way to bargain for rights, but as a way to meet basic needs. Another remarkable feature of this strike was that they won; the WTUL helped draft the final agreement.

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat (detail), 2008, hot glue

text from William Morris' The King's Lesson (1892)

‘This is as good a place as any to insert “Mr. Dodge” for he was part of her days. He was a nice elderly man, alone in the world, a machinist, I think, with a nice taste for chess. He had found his way to Hull House like many another. Apparently EGS made him one her special concerns. This went on a long time, and then he died. He left his savings and all his small possessions to EGS in recognition of all her kindness in finding him chess adversaries. The raincoat that she wore for years (not being bound by the mode) was his, and was always referred to in personalized form as "Mr. Dodge." (His savings amounted to $3000)’ [3]

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat (detail), 2008, hot glue

text from William Lucas Sargant's Robert Owen and HIs Social Philosophy (1860)

Sidewalk in Chicago Illinois, 2007

Mark making is a form of understanding what might be, and I have also come to see how it forms an understanding of history, value, and place. I contextualize my work within visual art practices that look to community, process and intervention as meaningful sites for activating historical politics within contemporary situations. I search the ground and the archives for lost emancipatory moments and for growing political awareness in the present. In a multilayered dialogue with Ellen Gates Starr, I paid close attention to the specific sites where she was politically active, as well as to the unexamined, ubiquitous, hardworking space of the sidewalk. In the same spirit, I examined how Starr’s history is usually treated as a series of failed ideals written in a way that serves to naturalize our present failures, but I was also inspired to do so because Starr’s history includes what Leo Lowenthal describes as ‘the real message of the socially unredeemed… [that] great reservoir of organized protest against social misery which allows the possibility of social happiness to dimly shine through.’ [4]

Sarah Alford, Flocking,2007

Ellen Gates Starr is best known as Jane Addams’ (1860-1935) partner in the co-founding of Hull House, Chicago’s first social settlement in 1889. Hull House attracted other residents, and they worked closely with their neighbours in a desperately impoverished immigrant neighbourhood. On the most basic level they fought to have Chicagoans understand that the poor did not deserve to be poor and they created a space in which their neighbours could read, dine, view art, organize and express controversial, even illegal, political opinions.

I replaced the flowers in Ellen Gates Starr’s book binding pattern with pigeon tracks and used it as a template for a lace pattern that I drew with hot glue over top of photocopies of the books Starr bound, or referred to in her lectures. Arts and Crafts bookbinders were reputed to only bind books they felt were important moral and intellectual choices. Historian Marianne Tidcombe writes that Starr’s bookbinding teacher, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, was reputed to refuse a binding order if he even disagreed with one paragraph of the text. [5] If Starr’s bound books were a collection of choices, I wanted to understand those choices. Starr was a teacher, and I wanted Starr to teach me as if she had a say in what I was learning. I also needed to inhabit her somehow. I listened to audio versions of the books Starr read out loud to her reading group at Hull House. I read as many books that she bound as I could find. I read every work she refers to in her articles and lectures. By using her bookbinding pattern, by altering it slightly, and then by drawing it over and over and over again, almost every day for months and months, as I read each page of each of her book choices, I was physically reading her books, first with my mind and then with my hand. I was compelled and soothed by the notion that I was physically etching her drawn bookbinding pattern into me. Some trace of her hand moved in my hand. I did not want to be her, but I was already housing her in so many ways that I wanted be considerate about how we could share that space. I was after a pattern in her craft practice and a pattern in her intellectual life. It was an attempt to work with my subject from her vantage point outward, as I was already quite aware that inevitably in my research it is the other way around.

This intervention was done on the corner of Van Buren and Franklin streets in Chicago. On this corner Starr confronted the police for harassing the striking women. Attached to the clothespins are stories about the strike told in the strikers’ own words.

Sarah Alford, Waitresses' Strike Intervention, 2006

Sarah Alford, Garment Workers' Strike Intervention, 2006

The waitresses during this strike were not allowed, by court order, to speak to anyone. So they handed out these cards. I printed these cards on cookies and stickers and stuck them around places the waitresses handed them out. This one is on the window of the Daley Center, which was the site of the restaurant where the strike took place. It’s a decal, not a sticker. The waitresses may have been brave, but I was very intimidated by the Daley Center’s intense security presence.

In this intervention I also made pigeon print cookies, dusted them with purple sugar and laid them out as sort of picket line where people would have to negotiate them by stepping on them, or over them. The cookies were almost invisible. There are a lot of pigeon tracks in the sidewalks of Chicago. Pigeons don’t seem to mind walking over wet cement. But if you don’t look for them, you might miss them. In making the cookies, I hoped to raise the prints up, in a way. Rise them up out of the sidewalk so that instead of an indent, they were three dimensional. Even though they were very small cookies, and quite thin, more people than I had imagined noticed that fragile line and negotiated it with care. In fact, it was so cold that day, that much of my observation took place over a cup of coffee across the street. When I went back after almost an hour, I was surprised that the line was almost still completely intact. It made me think that it might only take a small gesture for the invisible tracks, deeds and historical events to become visible. To rise up from the ground upon which they once walked.

Sarah Alford, Waitresses' Strike Intervention, 2006

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat, 2008, hot glue, 228 cm x 122 cm

This is a letter I wrote to the people who live where Ellen Gates Starr made a speech announcing why she became a Socialist candidate for Alderman. The location she made the speech is now a closed and gated street, so I delivered her speech to a mailbox I could reach from the gate.

In 1912, arising from the suffragette and labor movements came Rose Schneiderman’s famous declaration that women are fighting not just for bread but for roses; working women should have the same rights as rich women to beauty, life and sunshine. Starr believed that the struggle for bread, roses and freedom were all bound up together, that art was an expression through, and not apart from, common life. Although Starr might not have admitted this, I also believe that William Morris’s insistence that joy is the inherent counterpart to creative labour gave Starr the courage to claim this joy not just for others but for herself. Starr did not stop bookbinding until she became paraplegic due to unsuccessful back surgery in 1928. In Starr’s exemplary life of service, her bookbinding was the one thing that she consistently did for herself; the courage and consciousness that can be rallied and raised from making something well, should never be underestimated.

I made Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat after a raincoat Starr inherited from Mr. Dodge, as thanks for finding him ‘suitable chess partners.’ She wore it constantly, earning her a reputation for eccentricity. I drew the pattern from her book cover design, then drew it on photocopies of every book she ever mentions reading. I photocopied the books, read each page, drew the print with hot glue on the page and then peeled the page off to make the lace. The coat is one and a half times the size of what she would have worn.

Sidewalk in Chicago Illinois, 2007

The above images are of hidden labour. In this case, it is a message from the Common Wealth Edison electric utility that some work is about to be done on that ground. Someone you hardly ever see makes that mark, the electricity itself travels invisibly and, unless you’re initiated, you can’t read what this spray paint mark is directing another worker to do and where. I had been observing these marks of labour on the sidewalk for quite some time and they mostly look like the first image. However, one day, our local mark maker was replaced, or developed into the person who made the second image, which became quite a common local sight. My first thought when I saw this was to William Morris and John Ruskin who would have read this latter worker as evidence of joy in labour, someone exhibiting the pleasure of mastery and freedom in his or her labour. This may not translate into mastery and freedom in his or her job, of course, but for British Victorians the difference between these two kinds of marks became a matter of parliament. Whole movements and schools were created around this difference, some for the classical simplicity and the objective design of the first and some for the gothic wanderings of the hand in the other. And here it all is, on the sidewalk, in direct conversation with the Victorian era stone carving around the doorways.

The paradox of making expensive, labour-intensive craftwork motivated by concern for a class of people who could not afford the time to make, nor money to buy these objects, opened a revolutionary space for Starr. This space, cracked opened by contradiction, is not one in which art and handcraft are found to be inadequate to the task of emancipatory politics, but one in which they are integral to the realisation of what Starr referred to as a new life. She does not ask how more people can possess art and craft objects, but instead asks how more people can participate in the process of making art and craft objects. This difference allows Starr, as it did Morris, to define art as ‘doing the work one likes to do and expressing oneself through it’ and to conclude, ‘For our present mode of life, there is no artistic hope outside of miracle’ [9].The emphasis on process also prompts Starr to ask what societal conditions must be met in order to democratize this experience, and then to participate in activism that works toward the practical realisation of this vision. 

Sidewalk in Chicago Illinois, 2007

This is an example of what happened as Ellen Gates Starr’s bookbinding print went through my alteration and was drawn in hot glue on a page of John Ruskin’s The Nature of Gothic from 1853. Ruskin was the grandfather of the Arts and Crafts movement. He wrote ‘We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention of the division of labour; only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided; but the men: — Divided into mere segments of men — broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail.’

Ellen Gates Starr's instructions to the garment workers on the picket line combined with headings from her series of bookbinding 'how-to' articles: [6]


1. Taking the book apart if it has been bound before.

2. ‘Knocking out’ the hinges with a hammer on an iron slab.

3.  Mending sheets torn in the process of pulling sections apart, and the holes sawed for commercial sewing.

4.  Refolding if necessary.

5.  Cutting tops or ‘heads’ of sections.

Don’t walk in groups of more than two or three

6. Cutting or filing edges for gilding a book to be ‘rough sewn.’ (See Cockerell, Chapter X for cutting in press, which is too elaborate for this article).

Don’t get excited and shout when you are talking

7. Gilding, which is really a separate craft, usually not done in a bindery.

Don’t stand in front of the shop: walk up and down the block

8. Sewing.

Don’t touch his sleeve or button: This may be construed as a technical assault

9. Backing.

Don’t put your hand on the person you are talking to

10. Lining and cutting boards for covers.

11. Lacing in board covers.

12. ‘Head-banding’ and setting head-bands.

13. Paring leather.

14. Covering.

Don’t call anyone ‘scab’ or use abusive language of any kind

15.   Trimming.

16.   Decorating.

Plead, persuade, appeal, but do not threaten

Pigeons eating pigeon print cookies
from the Waitresses' Strike intervention

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat (in process), 2008, hot glue

text from Starr's notes

Bookbinding was integral to Starr’s life and in was integral to her labour activism. In her article “The Renaissance of Handicraft,” she wrote ‘The artist to be an artist, indeed, should come to his work not fatigued but justified in enjoying himself by having done something serviceable to common needs either that day or at some time not too remote, and by the expectation of again serving others in the natural order of life.’ Other evidence of the relationship between Starr’s activism and her bookbinding practice is found in one of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson’s short scribbled notes, dated February 11, 1911. It is pasted into a presentation copy of St. Francis’ Laudes Creaturarium, now in Chicago’s Newberry Library. In the note he asks Starr to donate the fees she still owes him to the cause of Chicago’s striking garment workers.

‘Dear Miss Starr,

I have just this moment received your letter and was much touched by our account of the strike of the garment workers & beg you to keep all the book you bound & rein the balance of your account when you have it at your disposal to the cause… And I will send you another Laudes for yourself: let it be my present to you in all affection… have this same struggle going on here, indeed the world wide.

Return to us dear Miss Starr,

With much affection & truly yours,
T.J. Cobden-Sanderson’

The day before, February 12, 1911, in his journal he writes:

‘It is not we alone who are moving forward. The whole Cosmos is moving, rushing forward with us. The whole animate world is not static for our contemplation, but is animate with us, and with us advancing, bound after bound, as, downstream, all the body of water rushes onward pell-mell to the sea. So I must not think of all things as centred in me but rather as I centred in the centre of all, I with all on-rushing.’

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat (detail), 2008, hot glue

text from Sarah Alford's handwritten research notes

Sarah Alford, Mr. Dodge: The Bibliography Raincoat (detail), 2008, hot glue

image on collar from T.J. Cobden-Sanderson's book bindings



Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Signet Classics, 1961).


Biography of Ellen Gates Starr. Starr Papers, from Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Xeroxed copy in Jane Addams Memorial Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago Special Collections.


Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986).


Jennifer Bosch, ‘Ellen Gates Starr; Hull House Labor Activist’, in Culture, Gender, Race and U.S. Labor History, ed. by Ronald C. Kent (Oxford: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993).


Jennifer Bosch, ‘The Life of Ellen Gates Starr, 1859-1940’, PhD diss. (Miami University, 1990).


Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism 1870-1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981).


‘Circuit Judges to Decide the Fate of Henrici "Strike"’ Chicago Daily Tribune (March 6, 1914).


Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, Ecce Mundus: Industrial Ideals and the Book Beautiful (London: Chiswick Press, 1902).


Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson 1879-1922 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969).


‘Council orders Henrici Inquiry’, Chicago Daily Tribune (March 3, 1914).


Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan. Arts and Crafts Movement (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991).


‘Dumb Pickets Hand Out Cards’, Chicago Daily Tribune, (April 10, 1914).


Andrew Feffer, The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1993).


Esther Griffin White, ‘Some American Bookbinders’, Brush and Pencil 5 (1904) pp. 374-375.


Willie Henderson, John Ruskin’s Political Economy (London: Routledge, 2000).


Hull House Scrapbooks, Nos 1, 2, and 3. compiled by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, 1889. Jane Addams Memorial Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago  Library Special Collections.


Bruce Kahler, ‘Art and Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Chicago’, Phd diss. (Perdue University, 1986).


Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for a Modern World (New York: Thames and Hudson in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art, 2004).


Wendy Kaplan, The Art that is Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1987).


Alice Kessler-Harris, Gendering Labor History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007).


Mable Key, ‘A Review of the Recent Exhibition of the Chicago Society of Arts and Crafts’, House Beautiful (June 1899) pp. 6-13.


Leszek Kolakowski, ‘The Concept of the Left’, The New Left Reader, ed. by Carl Ogelsby (New York: Grove Press Inc., 1969).


Lionel Lambourne, Utopian Craftsmen: The Arts and Crafts Movement From the Cotswolds to Chicago (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1980).


Leo Lowenthal, An Unmastered Past: The Autobiographical Reflections of Leo Lowenthal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft8779p24p/ [accessed November 10 2011].


J.W MacKail, The Life of William Morris, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green and  Company,1889).


William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1919).


William Morris, ‘The William Morris Internet Archive’, Marxists Internet Archive, http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/index.htm [accessed November 10 2011].


Sandra Packard, ‘Jane Addams Contributions and Solutions for Art Education’, Art Education, 29 (1976) p. 11.


‘"Police Cruelty" Arouses Women’, Chicago Daily Tribune (February 23, 1914) p. 123.


Wallace Rice, ‘Miss Starr’s Bookbinding’, House Beautiful (June 1902) pp. 12-14.


Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, ‘Craft Bookbinding in Chicago and Iowa: Ellen Gates Starr and the Hull House Bindery, the Hertzberg Bindery, and Bill Anthony’ (The Hawthorn Press, Inc. 2006). http://col.hawthornpress.com [accessed November 10 2011].


John Ruskin, On Art and Life. (London: Penguin Great Ideas, 2004).


John Ruskin, Sesame & Lilies; Unto This Last; & Political Economy of Art (London: Cassell, 1910).


John Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, ed. by E.T Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1905).


William Lucas Sargant, Robert Owen and His Social Philosophy (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1860).


Richard Schneirov, Labor and Union Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).


Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. by Rima Lunin Shultz and Adele Hast (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001).


Mary Ann Stankiewicz, ‘Art at Hull House, 1889-1901: Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr’, Women’s Art Journal vol.10 (Spring 1989) pp. 35-39.


Peter Stansky, Redesigning the World: William Morris, the 1880s, and the Arts and Crafts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).


Ellen Gates Starr,  ‘The Art and Socialism of William Morris’, n.d. Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.


Ellen Gates Starr, ‘Bookbinding as an Art and as a Commercial Industry’, n.d. Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass. 


Ellen Gates Starr, On Art, Labor, and Religion, ed. and intro. by Mary Jo Deegan and Ana-Maria Wahl (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2003).


Josephin Starr, ‘Notes by Miss Josephine Starr on Ellen Gates Starr’, (April1960), Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Northampton, Mass.


Eleanor J.  Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).


Herbert Hewitt Stroup, Social Welfare Pioneers (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1985).


Edward Palmer Thompson, Persons and Polemics, Historical Essays (London: Merlin Press, 1994).


Edward Palmer Thompson. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (London: Merlin Press, 1955).


Marianne Tidcombe, The Bookbindings of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson (London: The British Library, 1984).


Marianne Tidcombe, Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 (Newcastle: Oak Knoll Press and London: The British Library, 1996).


T.J. Cobden-Sanderson to Ellen Gates Starr, Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.


Polly Ullrich, Women of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Chicago, 1877-1915, Master’s thesis (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1994).


‘Waitress Pickets Taken By Police Despite Defiance’, Chicago Daily Tribune (February 7, 1914).

Starr's lecture notes “The Art and Socialism of William Morris”, break his life down into three periods, each characterized ‘by prodigious industry and productiveness.’ The third period her notes read: ‘About 1887 M. became convinced that no social revolution was immediately practicable. His own faith did not waver, but “his hope became very forlorn."’ Then, with each word underlined twice, she writes ‘Education toward Revolution by influence on opinion… Making socialists the only way to socialism’. [7] This emphasis on education allies both Starr and Morris to critics of Second International Marxism such as Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin, who claim that socialism is not the end product of a passive transformation of history, but one that must be built through the creation and empowerment of mass consciousness. This line of criticism grants the agency for change back to the worker, or maker, without falling into the tendency within anarchism that grants total agency to the individual, disregarding the social structure that must be overcome. Starr and Morris both realize that socialism requires socialists, and that socialists must be made.

The word ‘made’ is key here. Initially it might make sense that someone whose political goals were to abolish the competitive regime would give up bookbinding after the peak of the Arts and Crafts movement, but instead, Starr used her bindery to form the meaning of social change. Her bindery was a workshop in which she physically made models of an ideal.However, her bindery was not only a space of action, it was space apart from action. This space, as Kolakowski puts it, this consciousness, is ‘a tool of action upon reality’ a tool that is a precondition for revolutionary politics [8]. Starr also understood that the gap between art and life was only widening, and she seized it as an opportunity to situate herself historically and to establish her craft practice in relation to labor and reform politics, not as a substitute for it. 

Starr used her craft practice as a way to understand what might be, to move forward, not retreat. Personal transformation, Starr reminds us, is where we start, not where we end.