The National Archives in Washington contacted me in October looking for an artist to create gifts made out of official Government Red Tape. What is Government Red Tape? it is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules. I was aware of the term – but never knew it was also a tangible item. My next questions were. What does it look like? How could I turn this into “art”?
Government Red Tape basically looks like old red shoelaces that have been washed a thousand times. Therefore, to make something like that into a piece of art was going to be a challenge.
The history and expression “cutting through the red tape” dates back to the 18th century, but the red twill shoelace-like fabric from which the phrase derives has a much longer history. Clerks in 11th-century England wove ribbon around official documents and sealed the ends with melted wax. Clerks in America continued this tradition until about 1900.
After agreeing to work on this project, three days later an express mail package filled with government red tape arrived. It was so cool to have this odd piece of our nation’s history in my hands. Considering the National Archives is responsible for our nations record keeping and preserving important documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights— who knows what important documents this tape once bound. Now it was up to me to create something from this tangled mess.
Considering I love collecting old ephemera like old maps, currency and manuscripts, that I often pair with my framed insect pieces — I thought having a little piece of ephemera paired with the Red Tape would help tell the story. Researching Government Red Tape, I stumbled upon civil war bonds that were used by the Confederate army to finance the war and these little pieces of history fit perfectly into the insect shadowbox frames I was planing to use. I carefully wrapped a piece of government red tape around the confederate war bond, then elevated it from the back to give it some dimension and sealed it in an archival frame with museum grade UV blocking glass – so one can enjoy a piece of our nation’s history for a lifetime. The Archives loved the idea and this is what we went with.
I also created red tape rings, money clips, earrings and pendants — turning Government Red Tape into fashion (maybe fashion for a select few who love Government:)
All of these can now be purchased at the National Archives in Washington D.C.