Egg Collective Illustrates the Infinite Complexities of Motherhood
A group show curated by the New York furniture studio and artist Tealia Ellis Ritter honors visionary creators who happen to be mothers—and proves how they can’t be pigeonholed. “When all these voices are brought together, it really is a symphony.”
When Tealia Ellis Ritter first learned about the motherhood penalty, which posits how women struggle to sustain careers after having children due to unfair perceptions by employers, the photographer learned that her close friend, Egg Collective co-founder Hilary Petrie, was expecting. Her revelation came shortly after the beloved New York furniture studio wrapped the second edition of its critically acclaimed “Designing Women” exhibition series of art and design objects made by women. Seeking to shed light on this inequity and dismantle the unconscious bias that fuels it, Ellis Ritter suggested a motherhood theme for the third edition.
“We all recognized very quickly that this was a show we wanted to see come to fruition,” Ellis Ritter recalls. She and Petrie, who spearheads Egg Collective with Stephanie Beamer and Crystal Ellis (sister to Tealia), immediately began sourcing art and design objects from their tight-knit network of female creators. This time around, however, they sought a variety of work made exclusively by mothers. “Egg has approached each ‘Designing Women’ exhibition with the goal to empower and uplift female voices,” says Ellis Ritter, who previously showcased her own photography at the studio’s TriBeCa showroom. “I’ve always respected the spirit of community that Egg embodies, and so many conversations we had about the exhibition were in that vein.”
To that effect, “Designing Women: Mothers” highlights vanguard female artists and designers whose work illustrates the nuances of motherhood while also pushing the creative envelope. The roster of 28 names impresses with legends like Charlotte Perriand, Gae Aulenti, and Maria Pergay alongside contemporary stars like Kelly Behun, Jean Pelle, and Faye Toogood. Calico Wallpaper founder Rachel Cope teamed with her daughter to create a mural, called Duet and reminiscent of wall scribbles, that captures the spontaneous cohesion of their freeform movements. Other doses of whimsy come from veteran toymaker Renate Müller, who devised an immersive playscape of plush children’s furniture, and the geometrically diverse base of Lella Vignelli’s Metaphora Coffee Table, which references Euclidean shapes.
Thanks to Ellis Ritter’s expertise in fine art, the show teems with rare artworks that round out the design offerings. “She was essential in securing important works by powerhouse artists like Louise Bourgeois, Imogen Cunningham, and Faith Ringgold,” Petrie says. The late Cunningham, a botanical photographer, captured Glacial Lily (1926) after having children afforded her more time to spend in her garden. Ringgold, on the other hand, presents a silkscreen, called Dear Selma, Every Time I See a Dime, I Think of You (2010), that depicts the story of the sculptor Selma Burke, who created a bas-relief of Franklin D. Roosevelt that appeared uncredited on the American dime. Ellis Ritter’s own contribution, Protective Gestures, features 12 gelatin prints depicting her son superimopsed with images of her own hands.
Ellis Ritter and Petrie hope the show sparks revelations about the challenges of balancing parenthood with providing for one’s family—all while moving the needle toward gender parity in the workplace. “Mothers should never be perceived as having less capital to provide or uncommitted to their career, but instead given the flexibility to navigate all the roles they choose to pursue,” Petrie says. “For creative practices that are also companies, we need to be the kind of employers promoting workplace policies like paid time off and flexible scheduling, as well as recognizing that commitment to one’s job isn’t always measured strictly by hours worked.”
As a recent mother, Petrie understands these struggles firsthand. She admits to still figuring out how to balance career obligations with parenting her two-year-old daughter—even before the pandemic complicated her circumstances even more. “I was knocked off my climb back, but it also cemented that adaptability is necessary to the success of both my creative practice and my role as a mother. The obstacles are always changing and perfection at all times is impossible.”
Walking through the show reinforces that notion—it feels akin to witnessing not only a brilliant spectrum of creative expression, but the infinite complexities of motherhood. Most importantly, the show imparts how there’s no universal solution to getting the job done. “Each woman should be able to define motherhood in the way they see fit in their own lives—we’re individuals as creators and as mothers,” Ellis Ritter says. “What the exhibition does well and what I see as a goal for society’s conception of motherhood is that it allows all the individual artists and designers to operate with their own distinct voice. When all those voices are brought together, it really is a symphony.”
“Designing Women: Mothers” will be on display at Egg Collective (151 Hudson St, New York) until May 28.