Sophie Peng Awarded 2024-2025 Baumanis Grant

Jun 26, 2024

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased to announce that Sophie Peng has been awarded the 2024-2025 Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects in Baltic Studies for her project “Lace Narratives: Hand-work (EE: Käsi-Töö).”

The Baumanis Grant is an award made to honor Velta Marija Baumanis of Mount Brydges, Ontario, who left a generous bequest to AABS at the end of her career as an architect. An award of up to $7,000 is available for any creative project (e.g., book, film, exhibit, etc.) that promotes Baltic studies. Preference is given to topics with a pan-Baltic or comparative aspect. Applicants must be members of the AABS at the time of application.

The 2024 applications were evaluated by the AABS 2022–2024 Grants Committee consisting of AABS VP for Professional Development Dr. Kaarel Piirimäe, AABS President Dr. Dovilė Budrytė, AABS Director-at-Large Dr. Daunis Auers, and AABS Treasurer Uģis Sprūdžs, CFA. Learn about the other 2024-2025 recipients here.

A woman with dark hair in a plaid blazer stands next to a colorful bouquet

© Sophie Peng

Sophie Qiaoyun Peng is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Helsinki (Department of Cultures) and an Affiliated Researcher at the University of Glasgow (School of Social & Political Sciences). She defended her PhD thesis, titled “Lace-up the North: exploring the meanings of hand-knitted woollen lace fabrics in Haapsalu (Estonia) and Shetland (Scotland)”, at the University of Glasgow in 2023. Peng’s interest and enthusiasm in the Baltic Studies started around a decade ago when languages of the Baltic States were made as elective course options to her. She went to study Latvian first, then Latvian and Lithuanian, after that she decided “why not” and topped Estonian up: which eventually led her to the textile research career path, specifically — lace. 

As a textile historian, Peng’s current research activities focus on lace, oral history of heritage crafts, preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the Nordic-Baltic region. She serves as a committee member for The Nordic and Baltic Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage in year 23/24.

Project Abstract

Lace Narratives: Hand-work (EE: Käsi-Töö)” is an art project which consists of two art exhibitions (in Tallinn and Helsinki) and one online exhibition. The project interweaves the lace-knitting motion (“Hand”), heritage lace textiles (“Work”), and its cultural landscapes (why “Hand-Work” heritage crafts matter). Haapsalu lace is the main case of this art project, with other types of lace arts from all three Baltic States introduced as part of the exhibition texts. This project aims to present the ways that lace knitters narrate, relate, and present their identity within the heritage lace-making process to a general public audience outwith academia. 

The purposes for this project, as the name “Hand-Work” (in Estonian: Käsi-töö, which is a wordplay for “handicrafts”) suggests, are (1) to collect and analyse lacemakers’ narratives behind heritage lace fabrics and lace-making as a place-based Intangible Cultural Heritage, and (2) to collect visual materials of lace fabrics, lacemakers, and makers’ hands. “Hand-Work” project explores the importance of human hands in the textile and heritage-making process: without hands, there will be no lace fabrics; behind every hand there is a person with stories linked to lace, and every meaning attached to lace fabric makes it a heritage craft that is deeply associated with place-based local identity. 

This project comes with a research question that is how do lacemakers narrate, relate, and present their identity within the heritage lace-making processTo answer this question, I employ two methods: (1) story-telling — to collect lace-makers’ lived experiences; and (2) narrative analysis — to interpret the data collected from story-telling. Photos made for this project are designed to support the collected stories. Three types of photos are proposed to be made for the project: 

  • Half-body portraits of lacemakers 
  • Close-ups of lacemakers’ hands in lace-making motion 
  • Still life photography of a selection of lace fabrics 

For the photography part of this project, I will collaborate with an award-winning Tibetan photographer, Dawa Yangchen, who is specialised in making photography of folk art objects, field portraits, folk life documentary, and human hands. A short documentary film (ca.10-15 min) is proposed to be made for the exhibition in collaboration with the Arvo Pärt Centre, using Spiegel im Spiegel as background music: the key idea of Arvo Pärt’s music philosophy is simplicity, and such a genre suits the repeating motion of lace knitting. This idea of simplicity in music wires in deep philosophical meditation thus leads to complicity, that is also how complicated, exquisite lace fabrics are made from these simple, repeated hand-motions. 

This art project is not just focused on Haapsalu lace as a material/craft object, but most importantly it is about the stories and narratives behind lace fabrics and lace-making tradition. I aim to emphasise the importance of makers and their hands in (handi)crafts. Also, by using Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s music and applying the simplicity music philosophy in making a visual presentation of lace-making motions, I attempt to communicate an idea with audience that lace (as a form of heritage crafts) has deep meanings attached to its native land, therefore cultural landscape and contexts matter for the interpretation of heritage crafts through a semiotic lens. 

My project aims to promote Estonian handicrafts beyond Estonian audiences. 

This project is jointly funded by The Pasold Research Project Grant (United Kingdom) and AABS Baumanis Grant for Creative Projects (United States). 

Sophie Peng

Sophie Peng