An Artist in the Archive: Researching & Sculpting Nylon

An Artist in the Archive: Researching & Sculpting Nylon

History Hangout: Conversation with Emily Baker


Artists bring a unique perspective to historical archives. Like any other researchers, they examine documents and collections to learn about their subject. Where their methods diverge is to use archival sources to shape the form and meaning of art created in two and three dimensions. The experiences of past people, accessed through the documents they left behind, can breathe life into the materials worked by an artist’s hands. 

Visual artist Emily Baker, assistant professor of sculpture at Georgia State University, specializes in metalworking. When she encountered the repeated claim that nylon is stronger than steel, she wanted to learn more about the material, its production, and its meaning. Conducting research in the DuPont Company archives held in the Hagley Library, Baker gathered a treasure trove of context information and specific examples of nylon being linked to consumer psychology. Most notable in this connection was the frequent reference made in the archive to sex and gender roles and boundaries and their relevance to nylon. 

In support of her work, Baker received a grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

You can view a visual aid of Baker's images here.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.