The buttons, designed by artist Mary Frank, display the word “Truth” emblazoned across the flaming torch of the Statue of Liberty, and Frank has sold enough of them to raise $10,000 for Planned Parenthood. She has just ordered 1000 more buttons, and you can buy them for $3 each at stores around Woodstock and farther afield — as far as Australia.
At the opening of Frank’s current show at Elena Zang Gallery in Shady, a visitor suggested that the state of the country requires us to spend all our energy on working and taking to the streets, that making art is a luxury. Frank disagreed, stating that everyone can find something to do that will address the reality of the present.
“I keep hearing about new activist groups, in small towns,” she said. “I met a woman yesterday who lives north of Asheville, North Carolina, in a town of 600 people. She wanted a box of buttons. She’s near the Appalachian Trail, and lots of people come through the town. She’s sure she’ll sell a lot.”
Frank is known for her work expressing the relationship between the earth and people, especially women, with elemental and mythical qualities. She has also been making political art since she designed posters to protest the Viet Nam War. Before Chernobyl, she made a sculpture representing deer and birds with the message “Stop Nuclear Destruction.” During the Iraq War, her posters depicted a soldier carrying a wounded or dead soldier, and on the reverse, an Iraqi woman holding a dead child.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, artist Joyce Kozloff opened a workspace in New York City and invited artists to create posters and other artworks in preparation for the Women’s Marches to be held the day after the inauguration, and again a year later. Frank participated and also opened her Woodstock studio to a group of artists for the same purpose. “We made hundreds and hundreds of things,” she said, “like posters that said, ‘We can’t drink oil.’ It was a good atmosphere — very quiet, actually. Some people were sewing, and there were a lot of Statue of Liberty things.”
Frank enjoyed working with a large group of people, mostly women, on protest art. When she taught at Queens College, she encouraged her students to make political posters. “Some were interested, but most had no clue. In Europe, there have always been huge student demonstrations where you can’t move around the city at all. Once I had a show in Paris when there was a demonstration, and no one came to my show. They couldn’t get there.”
Recently, a friend suggested Frank design a button, and she came up with the “Truth” motif. She had 50 buttons made up and handed them out on the street. “Then someone said, ‘Why not sell them for something you believe in?’ I thought, if I make $100, I’ll be happy. I had no idea.”
She made up boxes with signs, offering the buttons for sale, and over a dozen businesses agreed to set them out for customers. Her assistant at the studio is Vanessa Hoheb, who used to run a bronze foundry. Hoheb and Frank go to the stores to pick up the proceeds that they send to Planned Parenthood. Hoheb has also been setting up tables on the street to register voters. “At first she was hardly getting anyone,” said Frank. “People are afraid of printed things. She figured out how to make it more appealing, with balloons and color and the paperwork printed out large, to welcome first-time voters.”
Frank chose Planned Parenthood as the recipient of the funds because she feels the organization delivers such essential services for women. On a visit to the dentist, she noticed the hygienist who was cleaning her teeth was crying. It turned out she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, which she found out from going to Planned Parenthood. “Enormous numbers of young people don’t know what Planned Parenthood is,” said Frank, “or they think it’s only about abortion. But they do this testing for free. With the system we have, lots of people have no money, so they don’t go get tests.” Now that the government has stopped funding Planned Parenthood, Frank predicted untold numbers of women will die or have dangerous backroom abortions. “They’ve made being a woman into a pre-existing condition.”
Mary Frank’s “Truth” buttons cost $3 each, and all proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood. The buttons are available at The Golden Notebook, Elena Zang Gallery, Cub Market, Bear Cafe, The Village Apothecary, Sunfrost Market, Sunflower Foods, Upstate Films, Byrdcliffe, Cheese Louise, Dr. Bruce Milner’s Transcend Dental, Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, New Paltz Homeopathy, DC Moore Gallery in NYC, Sid’s Bikes in NYC, Margot Sinclair in NYC, Blue Hill Wine in Maine.