In 1957 Nancy Martin staked out a humble claim to fame in an act both mundane and extraordinary — obtaining a mortgage to build her own home. Purportedly the first single woman to do so in Wellington, Nancy is listed on her mortgage as a spinster.
The forces of banking, gender politics, ghosts, and architecture flow through this project—their confluence made visible in Nancy’s house.
With an audio component by Pip Adam.
The publication a spoonful of sugar is available in the link below.
"Shelton’s art has frequently looked at the concerns of women and their role in society, and House Work expanded on these interests. The house in which we sat was Shelton’s current home, and had been built in 1957 by Nancy Martin, who was purportedly the first single woman in Wellington to receive a mortgage to build her own home. The house, therefore, is a bold physical example of one woman’s bravery and vision, in a society that suppressed women’s agency and restricted their financial and creative freedom. Adam’s story further teased out the building’s feminist history through the character of Abigail, who reads information about Nancy Martin on a laptop she finds in the house. It’s complicated: Adam’s fictional character, Abigail, reads about real-life Nancy Martin, as part of a story which was read out loud literally inside Shelton’s artwork, her house, which was also Shelton’s real home – a circularity that made my own ekphrasis of the artwork very tricky!
Nancy Martin. Photo: Gisborne Photo News.
In putting together House Work, Shelton astutely perceived that writing was a good way to bring together Martin’s story and the history of her house. “I settled on the idea of enlisting a ghost writer,” she writes in the beautiful book produced to document this artwork, “not in the sense that her identity would be obscured but in the sense that I needed someone with the skill to weave together a life that is ghosted through my home and a piece of writing made sense on this level.”[iv] In House Work, the words and the art are symbiotic and embedded, and Adam’s story, through focusing on a contemporary character, works to pull Martin’s life and history into a contemporary political climate and highlights gender disparities (especially financial) that still exist in the present day."
Every Story Tells a Picture, Thomasin Sleigh on the power of ekphrasis in women’s literature, Pantograph Punch.